No answers blowin’ in the wind

The Financial Review recognises that wind has broken Australia’s electricity system, and quotes Grattan advice that we need a new system, (redolent of Brecht’s channeling of East German politicians that it would be easier to dissolve the people and elect another).
Entranced by the Chief Scientist’s pearls of wisdom the AFR also tells us that he is to seek the solutions in an upcoming trip to Ireland and Denmark.  And they publicise the latest silver bullet, a new battery invented in South Australia that will take the world by storm and solve all our problems – it’s just that it needs (for the time being you understand) a subsidy to cover 50 per cent of its costs.
I have a more well-grounded analysis published in Quadrant, here.
It concludes
There is only one solution. We must unwind the subsidies and regulatory interventions that have created the problems. Governments spend or impose regulatory costs like the renewable subsidies that amount to about $5 billion a year (a calculation the Finkel report deigned not to make).  These are poisoning the economy as well as costing each household $500 per year.  We need politicians to announce that all subsidies to energy will be removed immediately and that there will no longer be any favouring of particular power sources. Only then will we see the supply system convalescing and recovering so that it once again provides the cheapest electricity in the world and all that entails for living standards.
The moochers and con men will scream “sovereign risk” just as the car manufacturers did when the tariff reforms were contemplated.  Others will say it is just not possible to change since the forces of darkness are so well entrenched.  Perhaps so but the future of the economy is therefore bleak.
My more lengthy piece critiquing the ridiculous Finkel draft report is here.
And I address it in a wider context in my forthcoming book CLIMATE CHANGE: Treaties and Policies in the Trump Era, which is to be published later this month by the redoubtable Connor Court.
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66 Responses to No answers blowin’ in the wind

  1. stackja

    Now get ALP/Greens to agree.

  2. OneWorldGovernment

    Alan, you have missed the point.

    We need high speed trains NOW.

    Any politician that promotes RET, subsidies paid to rich pricks that put solar electricity panels on their roof, should be smacked in the mouth.

    If a politician cannot look at you in the face and tell you that ‘renewable’ energy is going to cost you a lot more money, then they lie.

    If a politician cannot look at you in the face and tell you that ‘renewable’ energy is going to cost you jobs, then they lie.

    The so called ‘green’ jobs are in China.

    Anyone that promotes renewable energy is trying to shift jobs from Australia to China.

    If the current crop of politicians in Australia says anything, then they may lie.

  3. Gavin R Putland

    Fake news. The problem is that when the wholesale price of electricity peaks, it is more profitable for any individual generator to pocket the price than to ramp up capacity. It doesn’t have anything to do with renewables. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the price of gas.

  4. Leo G

    The problem is that when the wholesale price of electricity peaks, it is more profitable for any individual generator to pocket the price than to ramp up capacity.

    “ramp up capacity”?
    Capacity is the maximum electric output an generator can produce under prevailing conditions. If you meant generator output, why would an individual generator be more profitable, when prices are at a peak, by choosing not to increase output?

  5. Judith

    If that were so Gavin, then why are the generators going broke. The only investment with the RET is in renewables and that is just making the instability of the grid even worse.

    Look at the average price of electricity in SA for the real effects, not the peaks.

    This is a complete catastrophe and Alan is right – remove all the distortions. Turnbull seems to want to add more.

    And don’t you just love the idea of pumped hydro? How long does he think these things take to build. And by the way, the topography of SA makes it entirely unsuitable. There are no dams to speak of. Why do you think Adelaide pumps its water from the Murray?

  6. it is more profitable for any individual generator to pocket the price than to ramp up capacity.

    So tell me, O Gavin The Wise, just how does one “ramp up” capacity from a coal-fired, steam-driven, baseload power station (you know, the kind that actually produces most of the electricity)? Where’s the accelerator pedal located?

  7. Up The Workers!

    “The Financial Review recognises that wind has broken Australia’s electricity system…”

    You know that things are desperately bad when even the Fauxfacts rag, the A.F.R. recognises the flatulent bloviating of Labors’ gerbil worming carpet-baggers as being no more than “breaking wind”.

    Despite whatever Labor con-artist Jay Weatherill might claim to the contrary, not even the A.L.P. can FART its’ way to a sustainable power source!

  8. john constantine

    Their social justice elite have all the power they want, at a price that is a small fraction of their social justice elite wages/payments/rorts.

    Their class war loses nothing if the proles have to huddle in the cold and pant like chained dogs in the heat, their post industrial Bengali future has their Social Justice Nabobs carried on sedan chairs by the dispensible proles from their elite gated compounds to their price protected and bollard surrounded elite breeding grounds.

  9. H B Bear

    And don’t you just love the idea of pumped hydro?

    Getting pretty close to the Keynsian solution of paying people to dig holes and fill them in again. It would make sense to a lot of economists. Treasury will be all over it.

  10. Cementafriend

    Crap Gavin it is more profitable for a supplier to get $40/MW for 24 hrs than get $200/MW for 30 minutes. But with a requirement to take renewables first and subsidies that allow them to offet at $0-2o/MW other suppliers csn compete

  11. incoherent rambler

    A basic understanding of what “baseload electricity generation” means, would send the gavins scurrying back under a log.

  12. Entropy

    it is more profitable for any individual generator to pocket the price than to ramp up capacity

    Clearly, then, they should stop generating altogether. Also, demand and supply curves are all wrong. Or, Gavin has been smoking some very strong weed.

    Seriously though, I think Gavin is talking investment rather than immediate supply. You would have to be addict to invest in coal or gas power in the current political environment, regardless of the spot price.

  13. Entropy

    Addict=a dick in the above.

  14. South Australia’s power supply problem is a complete surprise, of course, to Chrissy Pyne, the main benefactor of Turnbull’s Frog Subs caper.

    Hang on. Doesn’t he live there?

    Nor would anyone in parliament have given ANY thought to South Australia’s ability to build many other multi-billion dollar ships for the RAN or even supply special steel for our new subs.

    Cough cough cough.

  15. Zyconoclast

    Now get ALP/Greens to agree.

    And the LNP/NXT/Lambie/Hinch and any other @rse clown.

  16. Beachside

    From ‘The true meaning of populism’ thread:

    Forester
    #2291792, posted on February 10, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    You’re all missing the elephant in the room, the SA ‘Energy’ Minister let the cat out of the bag, the CFMEU wants to re-nationalise electricity generation to sandbag their members jobs and boost Trade Union superannuation investments in heavily taxpayer subsidised generation methods.

    This will be confirmed when they ban private installation of natural gas fuelled household backup generators.

  17. Roger

    Entranced by the Chief Scientist’s pearls of wisdom the AFR also tells us that he is to seek the solutions in an upcoming trip to Ireland and Denmark.

    So he’ll take a trip to Europe – tax payer funded presumably – and still miss the bleedin’ obvious thanks to ideological blinkers.

    How on earth did the West succumb to this neo-Lysenkoism?

  18. .

    memoryvault
    #2292680, posted on February 11, 2017 at 9:57 am
    it is more profitable for any individual generator to pocket the price than to ramp up capacity.

    So tell me, O Gavin The Wise, just how does one “ramp up” capacity from a coal-fired, steam-driven, baseload power station (you know, the kind that actually produces most of the electricity)? Where’s the accelerator pedal located?

    He’s an engineer by trade too, with a PhD and patents. Don’t be too much of a smart arse.

  19. Roger

    From the Oz today:

    Koutsantonis’s own department warned him 8 months ago of likely power generation shortfalls in SA between 30 January and 14 February 2017 if wind failed.

    He states he didn’t see the report. He’s either a liar or an incompetent. Ditto Weatherill.

  20. Gavin R Putland

    Apologies for my confusing use of the word “generator” – by which I meant a generating firm, not a generating machine. The word “ramp” added to the confusion, and the word “capacity” didn’t clear it up. So, let me try again:

    The problem is that when the wholesale price of electricity peaks, it is more profitable for any individual supplier to pocket the peak price than to start another machine, thereby reducing the price.

    Cementafriend at #2292699: Yeah, but when the price peaks, it doesn’t just increase by a factor of 5 over the norm. It increases by a factor of 1000 or more. If you’ve got one machine running at that price, why would you start another one and lower the price?

  21. Chris

    And don’t you just love the idea of pumped hydro?

    Getting pretty close to the Keynsian solution of paying people to dig holes and fill them in again. It would make sense to a lot of economists. Treasury will be all over it.

    For those that came in late, pumped hydro is ‘the batteries’ of a city power supply. Off-peak use the spare power to pump water into storage; as demand peaks let flow reverse and generate power back to the grid.
    Limited by storage volume, baseload capacity, and the cast/revenue differences between off-peak charges and peak charges.
    Its also famous as the first great Middle-Class NIMBY victory over common sense, in NY state whenthey stopped the building of a pumped storage system.

  22. Chris

    cost/revenue not cast/revenue

  23. Beachside

    Premier Jay Weatherill has promised a “dramatic intervention” in the electricity market after about 40,000 customers lost power last night, with Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis declaring the State Government had “lost faith” in the national energy market operator.

    Weatherill told a media conference this morning that the Government would “intervene dramatically in the South Australian energy market” – but would not say what form that intervention would take.

    “One option is to completely nationalise the system,” Weatherill said.

    “It would involve breaking contracts and exposing us to sovereign risk, and the South Australian taxpayer to [paying] extraordinary sums of money.

    “It’s not a preferred option, but we’re ruling nothing out.”

    […]

    Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg echoes his comments, saying SA’s energy grid was a basket case and the State Government’s incompetence had subjected consumers to third-world conditions.

    But Weatherill said South Australians were fed up with a lack of action from the Federal Government to fix the national energy market.

    “South Australians are not prepared to put up with being ridiculed and have the finger pointed at them by a Federal Government that has abdicated its responsibilities,” he said.

    […]

    How S.A. energy overlords, Weatherill and Koutsantonis, can keep a straight face while blaming everyone else for their failing clean green wind energy policy folly is something to behold.
    Comrade Daniel CFMEU Andrews shares the same talent, and taking Victoria in the same direction
    as S.A.

    RTWT

  24. Alan moran

    Gavin P
    Any firm would like to benefit from a price spike caused by a supply deficit. This as true in petrol, fertiliser garden furniture, anything. What stops them exploiting such circumstances is other competitors and the market is sufficiently competitive in NSW and Vic to prevent this. in Qld this is less so now the govt has merged 2 of its generator portfolios. SA might also be a problem with forced coal closures

    Competition cures all such market exploitation

  25. Beachside

    Weatherill steps up fight against ruling on Alinta disclosure

    Legal options are being pursued by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill in a bid to challenge a ruling by the Ombudsman that his government must release a ­detailed submission by one of the country’s largest energy companies to keep the state’s only coal-fired baseload power station operating.

    South Australian Ombudsman Wayne Lines ruled that a document received by the state’s Mineral Resources Depart­ment from Alinta Energy relating to the potential closure of its Northern Power Station at Port Augusta be released in the public ­interest.

    The ruling last month followed 16 months of delaying tactics by the government to block the ­release, including a failure to ­provide any response for seven months to an access request lodged under Freedom of Inform­ation laws by the opposition.

    Alinta had warned early last year of the potential for the power station to close because of the impact of the state government’s ­aggressive renewable energy ­policy settings. The power station closed permanently in May, with South Australians being hit with immediate electricity price rises of ­almost 75 per cent.

    Rather than provide subsidies or other assistance to maintain its own source of baseload power, the government continued its pursuit of intermittent renewable energy, already at more than 40 per cent, and planned an upgrade of the Heywood interconnector with Victoria to import more brown-coal-generated power to meet ­demand. [Heywood to close in March ’17]

    The power station closure also left the state’s electricity network at immediate risk of voltage collapse and widespread blackouts, accord­ing to a report released in August by transmission company ElectraNet. To counter the loss of stability to the grid provided by the power station in times of low wind generation, ElectraNet is looking at five options to address the problem at a cost of up to $100 million, which ultimately will be passed on to consumers.

    In its bid to keep documents ­relating to the closure of the Northern Power Station secret, the government flatly denied any access on the grounds that it concerned the business affairs of Alinta and disclosure would be “con­trary to the public interest”, without consulting Alinta or providing “adequate reasons”, the Ombudsman found.

    Mr Lines said the behaviour was troubling and “betrays a fundamental misunderstanding” of the law. The Premier, asked if his government would comply with the ruling and release the document, said advice was being sought on its ­avenues for appeal.

    “Businesses need to know that they can come to the state government to discuss commercial proposals confidentially,” Mr Weath­erill said.

    “Ultimately it was decided this proposal was ­not­ ­viable because the moment you pay one generator to operate, you will be asked the same thing by other generators in the market.”

    Opposition energy spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the state Labor government ignored warnings that the plant closure would make electricity supply less reliable and more expensive.

    “Average spot electricity prices in SA have jumped 105 per cent since the closure … if the Premier takes legal action to stop this information being released it is clear he has something to hide,” he said.

    [bold added]

    Paywallian – complete article posted

    Weatherill’s arrrogance is astonishing.

  26. RobK

    Gavin P,
    As I understand it (this isn’t my area) generatng companies bid for production rights on anticipated demand. The spot price is the short term variations from the anticipated demand. If the regulatory function is working the situation of gouging by withholding should hardly be able to occur (a limited opportunism perhaps). In any industry if the regulator and industry are too cosy problems do arise. The more interference from the regulator, the greater the extent of corruption.
    The heavy interference in the electricity market to favour renewables means they produce when they want, to the extent they want at a fixed base price regardless of demand. Additionally their capital cost is heavily subsidized. In short they are guaranteed a good price for everything they can produce, even if they sell into a market already sold in advance by the regulator. This distortion is madness.
    I believe there are moves afoot to make the large renewballs estimate their production based on weather forecasts and take a penalty when this is mis judged. It’s a convoluted regime.

  27. Gavin R Putland

    Alan Moran re “SA might also be a problem with forced coal closures”:

    Keeping coal-fired stations open will not force the operators to start any more machines than are needed to meet the anticipated demand. If the demand rises beyond expectations, the excess will not be met immediately, if at all, by starting more coal-fired machines, because they take too long to warm up. It will be met by something that can be started faster, e.g. a gas turbine. Unless, of course, the turbine operator already has one turbine collecting the sky-high spot price and doesn’t want to lower that price by starting another one.

    What’s this got to do with renewables? Well, if renewables are available, they will be used as much as possible because of their low variable costs (notice that I didn’t mention climate change). Hence, if the renewable sources are volatile (e.g. wind) this will tend to make base capacity more volatile, increasing the need for short-term supplements such as gas. So, in principle, if policymakers fail to balance renewables with short-term supplements, this can cause price peaks and blackouts. The problem in SA, however, was not a lack of short-term generating capacity, but the extreme profitability of failing to use that capacity.

    “Competition cures all such market exploitation”? Perfect competition undoubtedly does. But you can’t have perfect competition if supply is lumpy. Occasionally this leads to opportunities for price-gouging, for which the price-gougers and their apologists will look for scapegoats: Renewables to the lion!

  28. The Pugilist

    Do the libs have any footage of Weatherill and Koutsantonis detonating pelican point? If so I would be playing that day and night on SA TV screens (when the power is on of course)…

  29. Tel

    Any firm would like to benefit from a price spike caused by a supply deficit. This as true in petrol, fertiliser garden furniture, anything. What stops them exploiting such circumstances is other competitors and the market is sufficiently competitive in NSW and Vic to prevent this.

    Yes, Putland is presuming that there is a severe lack of competition in the electricity generation market.

    What would cause a lack of competition? Hmmm, regulatory barriers to entry, complex union rules, exclusion of small players from the system, sovereign risk discouraging local investment, those are the things that first come to mind.

  30. Gavin R Putland

    Re Gavin R Putland at #2292790:

    Sorry: “1000 or more” should have been “100 or more”. But the point stands.

  31. Gavin R Putland

    “Yes, Putland is presuming that there is a severe lack of competition in the electricity generation market.”

    As a Georgist, I am very much in favour of competition. I would even force land owners to compete harder for tenants — for which some people around here would accuse me of being a communist.

    But I should explain that in the electricity market, it doesn’t take much “lack of competition” to cause price shocks. Electricity suppliers are called upon not only to supply a particular total amount of power, but also to supply it within a narrow voltage range and a narrow frequency range. This imposes pretty hard-and-fast limits on how much power you can supply with a particular set of generating machines. Hence it doesn’t take much of a surprise to cause embarrassment.

    Of course you can increase your margin for error by deliberately running each machine as less than optimum load. But in a competitive market you can’t really afford to do that… oops… I think I just undermined the case of competition in electricity supply.

  32. egg_

    Renewables to the lion!

    Get rid of subsidised renewables.

  33. Gavin, you are so full of it I assume you wear incontinence nappies. You completely passed on explaining where the accelerator pedal is on a coal fired power station. Now you claim the countryside is littered with such power stations that nonetheless are sitting around, turned off, not being used because, quote – “because they take too long to warm up”. You want to name us just one such idle, switched off coal-fired power station? No, didn’t think so.

    Finally, in a bid to outdo even yourself in the BS stakes, you offer this:

    What’s this got to do with renewables? Well, if renewables are available, they will be used as much as possible because of their low variable costs (notice that I didn’t mention climate change).

    No, Gavin, they won’t, and I suspect you know it. If renewables are available they will be used as much as possible, because legislation mandates their use ahead of fossil fuel powered sources. This is precisely what makes our electricity so expensive, while at the same time creating an unreliable supply.

  34. egg_

    Wind can’t be base load, as it can’t be synchronised to the Grid.

  35. Tel

    As a Georgist, I am very much in favour of competition. I would even force land owners to compete harder for tenants — for which some people around here would accuse me of being a communist.

    Having a central planner decide what all property owners should do is the opposite of a competitive market.

    The whole point about competition is to have many alternative perspectives each making individual decisions, on a voluntary basis. Maybe you should ramp up your understanding of some basic concepts and then come back and reassemble your argument here.

  36. Tel

    Now you claim the countryside is littered with such power stations that nonetheless are sitting around, turned off, not being used because, quote – “because they take too long to warm up”. You want to name us just one such idle, switched off coal-fired power station? No, didn’t think so.

    Most coal stations are split up into “units”, for example Liddell Power Station has four “units”. Not all of them need to be operating at any given time, and this kind of thing is necessary for maintenance, etc.

    In terms of the firebox, of course you can feed the fuel in faster or slower and same with feeding water into the boiler. There’s some limited range of adjustment that can be achieved this way, but with a hulking great coal fire and surrounding furnace lining it won’t change quickly. I’m not sure how long it takes to start or stop a “unit”, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be quick either.

  37. Most coal stations are split up into “units”, for example Liddell Power Station has four “units”. Not all of them need to be operating at any given time, and this kind of thing is necessary for maintenance, etc.

    Yes Tel, for maintenance. The units should be either running at full steam, or stopped for maintenance, or because something is broken. No power stations are designed to have a half, third, or a quarter of their capacity unused and turned off “just because”.

    In terms of the firebox, of course you can feed the fuel in faster or slower and same with feeding water into the boiler. There’s some limited range of adjustment that can be achieved this way

    No Tel, there is no “limited range”, not of fuel, or water. An industrial steam boiler such as is found in a power station, is designed to produce “X” tonnes of steam at “Y” degrees C at “Z” pressure. That is its “nameplate capacity” which is engraved on a metal plate and affixed somewhere – a legal requirement.

    X + Y + Z equals what the steam turbine requires to run at full load. X can and is varied to suit load on the generator, but only at the point of entry to the turbine. Decreasing fuel supply will reduce pressure and temperature, and the end product would not be fit for purpose. Ditto for fiddling with the rate of water supply.

    A steam powered power station produces a constant supply of steam at X + Y + Z, regardless of whether it is producing peak load electrical supply or none at all. All that changes from no-load to full load is how much of that steam flows through the turbine, and how much bypasses it and simply returns to the boiler feed via the condensate circuit.

  38. Gavin R Putland

    memoryvault at #2293018: The connection between “ramping up” and coal-fired stations was introduced by you at #2292680, not by me. I have already admitted that the expression “ramp up” was confusing because what I actually meant was firing up another generating unit (see #2292790, where “1000” should be “100” [more haste: less speed 🙁 ]). And we seem to agree that coal-fired stations are unsuitable for being switched on and off in this manner.

    If some generating units have fuel costs and some don’t, then the ones that don’t will tend to be used first for economic reasons, whether legislation mandates it or not.

    egg_ at #2293048 re “Wind can’t be base load, as it can’t be synchronised to the Grid”:

    It can, but only as part of the mix — I have just been surprised to read that the current crop of windmills can only make up so much of the load before they push the grid off-frequency. Surprised because it is definitely possible to design a generator so as to target a generated frequency independent of the frequency of rotation. Seems that someone was trying to get a toe-hold before taking over…

    Tel at #2293053: I don’t advocate “having a central planner decide what all property owners should do”. I advocate a tax system that makes it uneconomic for property owners to do nothing with well-located land, because idle land supplies neither business accommodation nor housing and therefore makes it harder for employers to pay workers enough to enable them to live within commuting distance of jobs. Such a tax system would make owners try harder to attract tenants or buyers, but wouldn’t tell them what sorts of tenants or buyers to seek or for what purpose. The present tax system, in contrast, too often makes it uneconomic for property owners to do something with their land. That, I submit, is what we should rather be complaining about.

  39. Gavin R Putland

    I wrote: “And we seem to agree that coal-fired stations are unsuitable for being switched on and off in this manner.”

    Or indeed coal-fired generating units (as I should have written – grrrr…).

  40. If some generating units have fuel costs and some don’t, then the ones that don’t will tend to be used first for economic reasons, whether legislation mandates it or not.

    No Gavin. In this case fuel costs are irrelevant. The wholesaler/distributor must buy the wind generated supply when available, because he is legally obliged to do so. The reason he is forced to buy it is because it is, and always has been, significantly more expensive than electricity from a coal-fired power station. That is the case even though the wind power is heavily subsidised. It STILL can’t compete. If not for the legal mandate, not one watt of wind-generated power would ever get sold. It’s a complete scam.

  41. Leo G

    The problem is that when the wholesale price of electricity peaks, it is more profitable for any individual supplier to pocket the peak price than to start another machine, thereby reducing the price.

    Perhaps the market should be stratified by availability/reliability. The individual supplier could be paid by a less reliable supplier to keep output below rated capacity by a prescribed margin and to deliver that margin on demand according to contract conditions.

  42. The individual supplier could be paid by a less reliable supplier to keep output below rated capacity by a prescribed margin and to deliver that margin on demand according to contract conditions.

    Here’s a better, simpler, cheaper idea, Leo. Let the wholesaler/distributor buy the electricity from the cheapest supplier. Within three months electricity bills are halved. The windmill carpetbaggers go broke, alleviating the need to subsidise them anymore, electricity bills drop another ten percent, and sanity returns.

  43. Gavin R Putland

    memoryvault at #2293210 re “The reason he is forced to buy it is because it is, and always has been, significantly more expensive than electricity from a coal-fired power station.”

    So in the absence of such regulation, the wind operators wouldn’t be able to amortize their sunk costs and would go broke, and the hardware would be bought by new operators at such a price as would enable them to undercut the coal-fired operators. And because the wind operators would have lower variable costs than the coal-fired operators, such a price would be guaranteed to exist. That scenario has its downside, but the logic of it seems to be inescapable. 🙂

    But seriously, the lower variable cost of renewable energy is a powerful motivator to find ways to get the fixed costs down. That is why, in the long term, I would expect renewables to gain ground for purely economic reasons, whatever the politics of it might be. And the established players are always going to oppose this process, whatever the economics of it might be.

  44. Gavin R Putland

    P.S. re “Here’s a better, simpler, cheaper idea, Leo. Let the wholesaler/distributor buy the electricity from the cheapest supplier.”

    Ummm… But that doesn’t solve the problem of the gas-turbine operator who finds it more profitable to pocket the spot price than to lower the price by starting a second turbine…

  45. Tel

    A steam powered power station produces a constant supply of steam at X + Y + Z, regardless of whether it is producing peak load electrical supply or none at all.

    Hmmm, I did a search on that. See link below, Chart 4 which is Liddell over it’s lifespan up to 2006. You can see that for more than a decade it was operating at merely 7000 GWh per annum. You also see that it goes up and down from year to year as required.

    http://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0012/14070/MacquarieGeneration290607dnd.pdf

    So Liddell has for “units” each of which is a 500MW GEC steam turbine (from Wikipedia), thus total theoretical peak would be 2GW or to make that consistent with the graph call it 17,000 GWh per annum (stupid unit to use and wrongly annotated on the vertical axis but that’s Australian engineers for you). However in the text they seem to down-rate that somewhat:

    The energy balance model assumes that Liddell is capable of producing almost 13,000 GWh per annum. The most that Liddell has ever produced is about 11,500 GWh and that was in 1977-1978 a few years after full commissioning (see Chart 4).

    So it has never ever run a whole year at maximum nameplate capacity (17,000 GWh per annum) and apparently the owners don’t expect that it ever will. For a long while during the 80’s it was averaging just above 40% of nameplate capacity. As I said above, at various times one of the four units will be shut down for maintenance and this is perfectly normal (probably unavoidable). There’s nothing particularly wrong with running a larger boiler than necessary feeding the output to only three turbines with the other closed off. Just means you have paid for some boiler capacity that you are not currently using. The steam pressure and temperature will be the same just reduced volume of flow is all that happens.

    You can also drop the temperature and pressure within some safe range (can’t find documentation of exactly what that is). If it still spins a turbine then it is still fit for purpose… what else do you think the steam will do there?!? At some point the thermodynamic efficiency will drop and so in effect each unit of electricity costs more to produce. That’s not necessarily a disaster depending on how often it happens. No point “efficiently” producing power that nobody is buying, better to reduce fuel burn and at least make some saving there.

    I agree that a coal fired power plant is not the most flexible generation option around but it’s not as set in stone as you pretend either. The main problem is slow reaction time. If you want to run it *efficiently* at say 50% capacity you need to run only two steam turbines, out of the four, but then there’s a long and slow procedure to increase capacity up to three turbines should you suddenly need 75% capacity.

    I can’t find any actual published data covering Australian power stations where they give the history of how many units they are running, rate of fuel burn, etc. I’m sure they keep the data, maybe they just don’t like Joe Public poking around in that.

  46. That is why, in the long term, I would expect renewables to gain ground for purely economic reasons, whatever the politics of it might be.

    Gavin, all we have discussed is the economics and politics of the situation. We haven’t even touched on the multitude of engineering issues involved. Suffice to say until you can build a wind turbine, from scratch, including mining and refining the metals required, using only wind generated power, you’re whistling Dixie.

    Once you’ve accomplished that we can talk about how we can economically store a week or two’s power, for when the wind don’t blow.

    After that we can talk about grid stability in the face of multiple feed-in frequencies.

  47. Ummm… But that doesn’t solve the problem of the gas-turbine operator who finds it more profitable to pocket the spot price than to lower the price by starting a second turbine…

    Compared to coal, gas turbines are a super-expensive way to generate electricity. The only reason they exist today is because they provide an (expensive) insurance policy against the uncertainties of wind power. Get rid of the wind turbines, build a couple of new coal fired baseload power stations, and we don’t need the gas turbines at all.

  48. Tel

    Here you go, there’s advertising copy from the Germans with charts suggesting no problem running the boiler over a fairly wide range, and some tricks for fast-starting by bypassing some sections of the boiler. It includes some outlines of real plants (in Europe).

    http://www.energy.siemens.com/us/pool/hq/power-generation/power-plants/steam-power-plant-solutions/benson%20boiler/BENSON_Boilers_for_Maximum_Cost_Effectiveness.pdf

    I’m sure that’s better kit than anything running in Australia given that our gear is 40 years old, but the same ideas would apply to any boiler.

    I also checked up on the fundamental steam parameters for the turbine inlets and it’s not so difficult:
    [1] The hotter the steam the more efficient, up to the point where your materials can’t handle it anymore (constant research into better materials improves your capability with new plant, but not for existing plant).

    [2] Running the steam cooler for low loads is acceptable, provided you don’t have condensation happening so there’s also a lower limit (and penalty of lower efficiency).

    [3] Turbines do NOT enjoy rapid temperature/pressure changes, so don’t do that because it will consume operational lifespan of the equipment.

    [4] There’s some fluctuations introduced by imperfection in the control system, which means you have to allow for that and leave a safety margin at all times.

    That’s about it.

  49. You can also drop the temperature and pressure within some safe range (can’t find documentation of exactly what that is). If it still spins a turbine then it is still fit for purpose… what else do you think the steam will do there?!?

    No, Tel, you can’t. Depending on the design, the system may be able to withstand a very temporary temperature/pressure drop, but there is no design capacity for it. Steam supply to the turbine is controlled by valves, which, in turn, are controlled by load on the generator.

    More load and the valves open and let in more steam. Drop in load and the valves close somewhat. In a typical installation these valves are capable of going from fully open to fully closed in three tenths of a second, and vise versa.

    Obviously for the system to work it has to be calibrated between generator load and steam supply. If the energy of the steam changed (temperature/pressure drop) the whole bloody thing would have to be recalibrated. A couple of good engineers with several switched on techies could probably do the job for you in a week or two.

    If you want to run it *efficiently* at say 50% capacity you need to run only two steam turbines, out of the four, but then there’s a long and slow procedure to increase capacity up to three turbines should you suddenly need 75% capacity.

    No, Tel there isn’t any problem bringing an extra turbine online, and therein lies the problem. The only way to do it is for the boilers to already be producing the steam for the additional gen set, only that steam is simply recirculating back through the condensate circuit when unused.

    In other words, the power station is burning the same amount of coal and costing as much to run whether they selling their full capacity or selling nothing at all.

    I have no idea why output from Liddell has fluctuated. It is probably economic. Maybe prior to the CO2 madness they couldn’t compete against Victorian brown coal power.

  50. Tel

    Ummm… But that doesn’t solve the problem of the gas-turbine operator who finds it more profitable to pocket the spot price than to lower the price by starting a second turbine…

    But just up above you said that private operators will always run at full capacity because a competitive market forces them to do that…

    Of course you can increase your margin for error by deliberately running each machine as less than optimum load. But in a competitive market you can’t really afford to do that… oops… I think I just undermined the case of competition in electricity supply.

    So I suppose every owner of a private vehicle also runs their engine at full capacity all the time… because there’s a competitive market in automobiles. Every person who buys a private home stereo always runs it at full volume… and so on. Hmmmm, I think your theory is inconsistent with observation and quite likely inconsistent with itself as well.

    But why are we even discussing the cost of electricity generation? The figures are published and typical AVERAGE cost in NSW s a mere 5c per kWh which I am more than happy to pay. Instead I’m getting hit with upwards of 25c per kWh so I know for a fact it isn’t the generators who are stuffing their pockets.

    With newer coal plant we could shave that cost down from 5c per kWh to maybe 4c per kWh. With nuclear we might get it right down to 3c per kWh… none of which are a significant difference to the end user when that man-in-the-middle has a monopoly stranglehold and an astounding markup happens AFTER it leaves the generator and before it gets to me. In addition I’m hit with a maintenance cost on the “poles and wires” which is irrespective of energy usage, so I’ve already paid for poles and wires and there’s still a massive markup in the middle. Cheaper generation won’t make a significant difference to the consumer price, because it’s already such a small fraction of that price.

  51. Tel

    No, Tel, you can’t.

    Yes, yes you can, it’s right there in the published documentation from Siemens.

    Wherever you are getting your thermodynamics from, the rest of the world does it differently. Boilers are designed specifically for handling a range of loads, check the link above.

  52. Tel

    There’s the manufacturer’s brochure on the turbines from GEC.

    https://powergen.gepower.com/content/dam/gepower-pgdp/global/en_US/documents/product/steam%20turbines/Fact%20Sheet/A200-D200_Fact%20Sheet_APR15.pdf

    You will notice they give an operational power range for each model. This is the guys that build them telling you they can be run with variable loads. The widest range design comes with a multi-stage process involving reheating the steam, but even the simple turbines have some decent sized operating range.

    Obviously for the system to work it has to be calibrated between generator load and steam supply. If the energy of the steam changed (temperature/pressure drop) the whole bloody thing would have to be recalibrated. A couple of good engineers with several switched on techies could probably do the job for you in a week or two.

    Obviously the people who have been designing, building and testing steam turbines for more than 100 years have sat down and thought this one out and they do understand that people will use them over some operational range… which is what they have fully calibrated for, and tested, and they publish for their models (see documentation above).

  53. Yes, yes you can, it’s right there in the published documentation from Siemens.

    No, Tel, what’s there “in the published documentation” is that a Siemens Benson boiler adjusts its water feed system slightly differently than a conventional boiler. Obviously the temperature of the water/steam returning through the system will fluctuate, depending on how much of it passed through the turbine in the first place.

    What the “published documentation” is explaining is how that fluctuation is handled, to ensure that the reheated steam arrives back at the turbine at the correct temperature (and therefore pressure). This is covered on pages 5 and 9. On page 13 it is explained why certain fluctuation occur, the magnitude of those fluctuations, and the claim that the Siemen’s system is better at handling them. Nonetheless, the overriding message is that the steam HAS to arrive back at the turbine within certain, closely defined parameters re temperature/pressure.

    Boilers are designed specifically for handling a range of loads, check the link above.

    These kinds of boilers are designed to cope with small fluctuations in input, to ensure a standardised, homogenised output matching the requirements of the turbine.

  54. Dr Fred Lenin

    One day when all subsidies are removed and windmillsand solar have to actually compete .the winmills will be idle ,compel the rich pricks and unions who own them to dispose of them and restore the sites to pristine condition on pain of confiscation of assets and jail time ,that includes power lines to the grid .lets get rid of this u,n,communist visual pollution and make them psy dear to do it

  55. You will notice they give an operational power range for each model. This is the guys that build them telling you they can be run with variable loads.

    No, Tel. The ability of a turbine to run under variable loads was never in question. Hooked up to a generator operating in droop (follow-on mode), the load on the generator and therefore the turbine, will be varying constantly. Virtually second to second. See my post above re the control of the steam to the turbine. It is precisely for this reason that the physical properties of the supplied steam must remain more or less constant.

  56. Tel

    The available steam must be sufficient to handle the short-term peak load on that generator, but that does not imply full nameplate load of the power station.

    There’s no requirement that every coal fired power station must be available to give nameplate capacity at short notice, indeed it’s totally impossible for them to do so.

  57. Tel

    These kinds of boilers are designed to cope with small fluctuations in input, to ensure a standardised, homogenised output matching the requirements of the turbine.

    In the major bullet points on page 3:

    • High plant efficiency even at part load
    […]
    • Sliding-pressure operation with high load transients

    When they say “load” that would imply the load, not the input. When they say “part load” that means the plant is not fully loaded (i.e. sitting at less than nameplate capacity). Now “load transients” means that the load is changing, and “sliding pressure” means that the boiler pressure is also changing along with the changing load.

  58. egg_

    Obviously the people who have been designing, building and testing steam turbines for more than 100 years have sat down and thought this one out and they do understand that people will use them over some operational range… which is what they have fully calibrated for, and tested, and they publish for their models

    Basically pressure and flow in any electrical/hydraulic/pneumatic circuit (some for centuries), but we have bean counters arrogantly trying to reverse engineer something they know eff all about.

  59. Tel, you are hopelessly mixing boiler temperature/pressure inputs with turbine/generator load, turbine/generator load with boiler output parameters (nameplate capacity), and the means by which the boiler self-corrects for input changes in temperature/pressure input (load transients), with how the boiler delivers constant temperature/pressure steam (sliding pressure) to the turbine.

    Since for whatever reason you are not going to believe me, despite fourteen years experience with power station steam turbine gen sets, I suggest you devote some time to locating the accelerator pedal that you and Gavin require to exist in a baseload steam power station.

    When you find it, let me know. Meantime, I’m going to watch a movie.

  60. Gavin R Putland

    Tel at #2293278 re “But just up above you said that private operators will always run at full capacity because a competitive market forces them to do that…”

    They will run independent *machines* (not necessarily their whole operation) at or near *optimal* capacity (not necessarily full capacity) because if they don’t, they will be undercut by competitors who do.

    There is no analogy with your car, because you are not competing with other car owners to offer kilowatts through the rear wheels at a specified speed at the lowest possible price, with or without government-imposed distortion in the market. What you require of your car is (I hope) a bit more subtle than that.

    Meanwhile memoryvault at #2293444 is still asking me to point to the accelerator pedal that he imagined and then attributed to me.

  61. Gavin R Putland

    P.S.: No, it’s not just the generating firms (or some of them) who are stuffing their pockets, and the cost for “poles and wires” is not just maintenance. I’m told, and perhaps someone here can confirm, that the distributors are somehow entitled to a guaranteed return, including a return on the capital that the taxpayers paid for decades ago.

  62. hzhousewife

    Entranced by the Chief Scientist’s pearls of wisdom the AFR also tells us that he is to seek the solutions in an upcoming trip to Ireland and Denmark.

    So he’ll take a trip to Europe – tax payer funded presumably – and still miss the bleedin’ obvious thanks to ideological blinkers.

    He should watch the Danish tv series “Follow The Money” instead of travelling all they way on our dime.

  63. Crossie

    We need politicians to announce that all subsidies to energy will be removed immediately and that there will no longer be any favouring of particular power sources.

    Whoever runs ads promising to do so will win the next election.

  64. Alan Moran

    Gavin
    Distributors get a guaranteed return on the investments the regulator deems to have been legitimate, including the investments that they bought off the state government owners

  65. Tim Neilson

    One day when all subsidies are removed and windmillsand solar have to actually compete .the winmills will be idle ,compel the rich pricks and unions who own them to dispose of them and restore the sites to pristine condition on pain of confiscation of assets and jail time ,that includes power lines to the grid .

    In a just world, Fred, there’d be one extra step needed.

    The union crims have punted vast sums of union-controlled super fund money in these things. The scam is, generally, that taxpayers and union super funds fund the construction costs no matter how high they are, so there’s negligible resistance to demands by the CFMEU et. al., no matter how outrageous they are, so the crims stay in the rank and file’s good books, and it’s assumed that the taxpayers will be forced to underwrite the dud investment in perpetuity.

    So if “renewables” were ever forced to compete on merit they would (as you say) go broke – but then the “workers'” super would be seen to have vanished.

    So we need to have confiscation of the assets of the union crims and every other spiv involved, plus forced labour camps for them to work to pay off the shortfall.

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