Beware – Pixie Dust Instead of Fair Dinkum Climate Change Policies

Beware – Pixie Dust Instead of Fair Dinkum Climate Change Policies

By Robert Parker – Nuclear For Climate Australia – 10/5/2019

Climate Change policies are for me the key issue of this Federal Election but I have grown increasingly angry about “aspirational” policies that result in no effective action.

These policies that are scattered over the voters like pixie dust. This election is no different, with Labor promising to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution by 45 percent on 2005 levels by 2030, and to reach net zero pollution by 2050. Their policy requires that 50 per cent of the nation’s electricity is to be sourced from renewable energy by 2030 while at the same time targeting 50% of Australia’s motor vehicle sales to be electric vehicles by that year.

Like pixie dust, these policies are an illusion that has no successful International precedent. They are dangerous policies because, while the Coalition Parties make no pretence to properly address carbon reductions Labor prolongs the agony by holding out false hope. No major industrial nation with an isolated grid such as Australia’s has yet succeeded in generating electricity using wind and solar at levels even exceeding 20% wind and solar let alone 50%.

I really want to see Australia achieve a rapid and cost effective draw down of our carbon emissions but so far only nuclear energy and hydropower have enabled countries to reduce their emissions to around the 50 gr CO2/kWh required for effective climate action.

Australia’s hydropower resources are fully exploited and in any event the environmental impacts of hydropower can be disastrous both for rivers and climate change. Nuclear energy is the only electricity generating source that has proven capable of meeting our climate change targets in a costs effective way with an incredibly small environmental footprint.

Labor outlaws nuclear energy and has clearly taken the bait from German policies on carbon reductions. Over the last decade, journalists and climate change activists have held up Germany’s renewables energy transition, the Energiewende, as an environmental model for the world.

“Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset,” thanks to the Energiewende, wrote a New York Times reporter in 2014.

But then, last year, Germany was forced to acknowledge that it had to delay its phase-out of coal, and would not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments. It announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath it.

But Germany didn’t just fall short of its climate targets. Its emissions have flat-lined since 2009.

 

“The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” reports Germany’s largest news magazine.
Der Spiegel

Now comes a major article in the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel, titled, “A Botched Job in Germany” (“Murks in Germany“). The magazine’s cover shows broken wind turbines and incomplete electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin.

“The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” write Der Spiegel’s Frank Dohmen, Alexander Jung, Stefan Schultz, Gerald Traufetter in their a 5,700-word investigative story (the article can be read in English here).

Over the past five years alone, the Energiewende has cost Germany €32 billion ($36 billion) annually, and opposition to renewables is growing in the German countryside. “The politicians fear citizen resistance” Der Spiegel reports. “There is hardly a wind energy project that is not fought.”

In response, politicians sometimes order “electrical lines be buried underground but that is many times more expensive and takes years longer.”

As a result, the deployment of renewables and related transmission lines is slowing rapidly. Less than half as many wind turbines (743) were installed in 2018 as were installed in 2017, and just 30 kilometres of new transmission were added in 2017.

Solar and wind advocates say cheaper solar panels and wind turbines will make the future growth in renewables cheaper than past growth but there are reasons to believe the opposite will be the case.

Der Spiegel cites a recent estimate that it would cost Germany “€3.4 trillion ($3.8 trillion),” or seven times more than it spent from 2000 to 2025, to increase solar and wind three to five-fold by 2050.

Between 2000 and 2019, Germany grew renewables from 7% to 35% of its electricity. And as much of Germany’s renewable electricity comes from biomass, which scientists view as polluting and environmentally degrading, as from solar.

Of the 7,700 new kilometres of transmission lines needed, only 8% have been built, while large-scale electricity storage remains inefficient and expensive. “A large part of the energy used is lost,” the reporters note of a much-hyped hydrogen gas project, “and the efficiency is below 40%… No viable business model can be developed from this.”

Yet this is the type of technology currently being advocated by CSIRO, our Chief Scientist and ARENA for use in Australia.

Meanwhile, the 20-year subsidies granted to wind, solar, and biogas since 2000 will start coming to an end next year. “The wind power boom is over,” Der Spiegel concludes.

All of which raises a question: if renewables can’t cheaply power Germany, one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world, how could mid level economies and developing nations possibly succeed?

Germans, who will have spent $580 billion on renewables and related infrastructure by 2025, express great pride in the Energiewende. “It’s our gift to the world,” a renewables advocate told The Times.

Tragically, many Germans appear to have believed that the billions they spent on renewables would redeem them. “Germans would then at last feel that they have gone from being world-destroyers in the 20th century to world-saviours in the 21st,” noted a reporter.

Many Germans will, like Der Spiegel, claim the renewables transition was merely “botched,” but it wasn’t. The transition to renewables was doomed because modern industrial people, no matter how Romantic they are, do not want to return to pre-modern life.

In Australia we need to recognise that the reason renewables can’t power modern civilization is because they were never meant to. One interesting question is why anybody ever thought they could.

Acknowledgement: This article has drawn from a Forbes article of the 6th May by Michael Shellenberger available here: Forbes 6th May

12 Comments
  • Alan Clarke
    Posted at 09:51h, 10 May Reply

    I agree with you Robert, although I do think that there are many applications for which RE is suitable. I have long argued for a 2 pronged policy which embraces the best of RE & the latest Nuclear Technology as baseload for our cities.

  • Grant Gartrell
    Posted at 10:21h, 10 May Reply

    The English translation of the der Spiegel article is very interesting and is far better than nothing, but is almost on par with my workshop manuals for Chinese equipment written in chinglish.

    My crude, back of the envelope sums for developing enough lithium based batteries to convert the current world’s vehicle fleet to electric, suggested that at the present global rate of production of lithium we should have mined a sufficient quantity (for today’s vehicles) in about 1800 years. Maybe we have other plans.

    I note that Germany is yet to shut down its last nuclear power station, Neckarwestheim 2. I understand that they will still continue to import significant quantities of relatively cheap, and approximately two thirds nuclear generated, power from France. Am I missing something or is that a bit like having your (yellow?) cake and eating it, too.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 13:02h, 13 May Reply

      Grant, Additionally Germany is building the Nordstream 2.0 gas pipeline – 1200 km and over 1200mm diameter to bring Putin’s gas into Germany and increase fossil fuel consumption.
      Now this gas production and supply involves leaks of unburned gas such as methane, a greenhouse gas as much as 75 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. If total leaks of natural gas exceed as little as 3.5pc of overall gas volume, gas is no better than coal from a climate change perspective. Yet Russian gas from the notoriously leaky Gazprom production system has “fugitive emissions” rates of at least 5-7 per cent. The Obama administration estimated that US shale gas, in contrast, involves leaks of only about 1.5 per cent.
      https://www.ft.com/content/3edd0b08-9bf5-11e8-9702-5946bae86e6d

      Germany will continue to import French nuclear electricity however their electricity exports are now increasing due to random overproduction due to the variability of wind and solar.

  • Donald Higson
    Posted at 11:21h, 10 May Reply

    Some say that we should have a diverse mix of energy generation technologies that includes renewables and nuclear power. I wonder! I can see that renewables might compete with SMRs for areas that are remote from a grid. Also, designers of new buildings anywhere should consider roof top solar hot water systems and solar-PV to run air conditioners. In all such cases, it should be advisory and subsidy-free, not compulsory. Apart from that, I cannot see any case at all for use of solar and wind power. And there are significant objections, e.g. on environmental grounds. I am sure that there will be plenty of jobs and business opportunities whatever choices are made. And any energy industry must have proper regulation.

  • Peter Cunningham
    Posted at 16:26h, 10 May Reply

    Corrected spelling:

    The key words in this global mess are:
    “…. renewables can’t power modern civilization is because they were never meant to. One interesting question is why anybody ever thought they could.”

    Green insanity has driven this to the point where nations are and will be faced with bankruptcy.

    The purpose of solar wind is NOT to be connected to a distribution network due to the transient, unpredictable and variable nature of nature itself.

    The practical purpose for ‘renewables’ is to relieve the load on the grid system by developing means to collect and store energy in places remote from the grid – NOT to replace or bolster baseload and topping generation that drives the grid.

    Transient politicians in concert with the UN that seeks it’s first permanent income stream – peddle the Green agenda because the novelty made them look good …… after all, they were doing the honourable thing by being seen to be saving the planet. Nobody could question and the cause became a religion.

    Engineers and those rational people who prefer dealing with fact and reality were and are dismissed and derided by the righteous.

    And here we are – In a Federal duopoly we MUST vote for those idiots instead of rounding them up to be thrown into Jail for what they have done, let alone what they WILL do.

    The religion is one of madness – especially so when considering that modern Nuclear can power the entire world for more then 500 years by feeding off existing decommissioned nuclear warheads – something that really would make us all safer and increase the living standards of practically everybody on the planet.

    Instead, the Green zealots infect mature and immature minds to the point where ignorant, well-meaning children are brought to tears of desperation. Indoctrinated by Green lies in a so-called “Education” system, and spread by leftist, sensationalist media, all of which has us on the path to destruction.

    Is wrist slashing the only next step, or should we all wait and enjoy the circus whilst selling popcorn from the sidelines as we watch the nation die?

    I honestly can’t see another solution as the idiots have a firm grasp on our destiny.
    PC

  • Anthony Wood
    Posted at 17:34h, 10 May Reply

    It was interesting to read the Der Spiegel story because there have been earlier rumours of the whole German network being on the verge of collapse. They at least, can reach over the border for emergency supply from more stable sources, but we cannot. We are on our own with a long flimsy grid created by cobbling together state grids. AEMO has created a strategic reserve. Bless them, but some have ,perhaps more accurately, called it “our last ditch stand”.
    Why are the German people accepting the proposed shutdown of their last 9 reactors? The reunification of Germany might not have been such a good idea since the East Germans have the brown coal which they are anxious to use.

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 18:28h, 10 May Reply

      Tony,
      I suggest you read Mike Shellenberger’s original but much longer piece in Forbes.
      It may have something to do with post war redemption. Then there’s the Lebensraum notion. There seems to be a lot going on with German political history and the environment though I haven’t followed it up enough to be knowledgeable.

  • Georgi Georgiev
    Posted at 18:29h, 10 May Reply

    I wonder when the Greens would grow mature enough to realize that the “nuclear” is not their enemy but their friend? Within the very tight dealines imposed for the substasubstantial reduction of CO2 emissions the nuclear option is the only one, which relies on a well established and proven technology, that can do the job. Anything else would be relying on some better future technologies would do a miracle. Unfortunately we do not have the time for hoping and dreaming about, or even developing, those future technologies – we have to react NOW!

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 22:35h, 12 May Reply

      Georgi
      Thanks for your comment.
      Its great that you as a nuclear physicist have made these comments and we need a lot more to do the same.
      It seems that the Greens in particular and the public more generally don’t understand the great new future that massive energy density can bring.
      I landed here in Nice yesterday and see the massive contrasts with the electrified public transport systems and low power prices due to cheap nuclear energy.
      We have a LONG way to go in Australia

  • John Horton
    Posted at 10:42h, 12 May Reply

    Bob Parker is 100% correct. Forget the pixie dust and build nuclear power stations, just as the progressive Countries of the World have been doing for years and are continuing to do so.

    A joke, carbon reduction for Australia when we have 25 Million people, with China and India some 2.5 BILLION — Our contribution is nothing on the World stage. Wake up Australia !Go Nuclear.

    John Horton
    HARDEN NSW

    • Rob Parker
      Posted at 11:58h, 12 May Reply

      John, Thanks for your support for nuclear energy.
      While out population is small, we have amongst the highest per capita emissions in the World. All middle ranking nations can play their part because it puts backbone into all International efforts.
      Our nation needs to use its talents by decarbonising all sectors of our economy like steel making and transport.
      If we don’t start getting smart we will end up being dictated to by the technology rich countries in our region and our economic future will be very grim.

  • Janet Elizabeth Forbes
    Posted at 17:40h, 18 May Reply

    I have read with great interest the article and comments I was sent today, particularly as it coincided with a short letter of mine published in the South Australian newspaper “The Advertiser” on this election day (18/5/19)

    My letter praised the United Australia Party for being unafraid to use the word ” nuclear” in the lead up to the election. It was refreshing to read of a group thinking and planning for a positive boost to Australia’s economy whilst keeping the ethical standards expected in this era of high angst for the future of our planet.

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