Where is the tipping point with unreliable energy?

Barry Bones was delighted to tell us that his electric jug went on this morning so we just need to relax and enjoy unreliable energy firmed by gas. Many people may find that reassuring but they need to appreciate that we are at the point where about 10% of our power comes from wind and solar when it is going well. Besides Sunday morning is a low point of demand.

We can live with that small amount of unreliable energy, at least on Sunday mornings, because we still have almost enough fossil-fuelled power to meet demand almost all of the time. And when there is not quite enough, some of the big users have to back off. There will be more and more of this, and also the shutdown of whole suburbs that has been rare up to date.

As for whole states getting into trouble, the AEMO has warned that this is on the cards for Victoria next summer.

This is with 10% in the system (on a good day), what happens when it gets to 15% and 20%? The answer is that the power gets more expensive and the supply becomes less reliable. It has to get more expensive because for the indefinite future we will have two supply systems. However the economics of the system will tend to drive reliable power out of business. This will be an interesting process to observe, unless you run a business with ovens or freezers.

The Germans led the way down this road and they are now building coal-fired power stations, phasing out pumped hydro and they have not reduced their CO2 emissions since 2009.

This entry was posted in Global warming and climate change policy, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Where is the tipping point with unreliable energy?

  1. Add to this, if you lose power in Oz because have the NBN you will also lose fixed land lines and internet.

  2. Add to this, if you lose power in Oz because have the NBN you will also lose fixed land lines and internet.

    The mobile system also requires power, so that also goes down when the power fails. When the next major bushfires start and communications and all needed power sources go down, we can blame global warming. Nothing to do with government stupidity and UN criminality.

  3. zyconoclast

    The mobile system also requires power, so that also goes down when the power fails. When the next major bushfires start and communications and all needed power sources go down, we can blame global warming. Nothing to do with government stupidity and UN criminality.

    When the next major bushfires start

    It will be the fault of gerbil worming.
    Solution is more ruinables.

  4. RobK

    unless you run a business with ovens or freezers.
    …..Or rely on IT, deep sewerage, reticulated water, high-rise ventilation, air conditioning,street lighting, desalination plant or an electric pump to fill your car with fuel. Never mind industrial applications of plating, purifying, reduction.
    The dream of renewables is do-able but it will be a lot more expensive. We are paying double now (compared to what we had) but it will double a couple more times before coal is fully retired.

  5. min

    Rafe there was an interview with a former member for Wentworth, Thompson?, who now lives in Japan. –
    An incident recent.y when the amount of energy produced from solar farm was so great and they could not cut back base load energy any further so transmission lines went and caused massive blackout. Heard him on a SkyNews podcast such as Outsiders or Paul Murray . He said this is likely to happen in Victoria next summer.
    Those who donot think through consequences need to suffer from some . However in all my professional years and still now as a retired psychologist I have observed , people keep doing the same thing and getting the same result so maybe it will not work.

  6. KenS

    When I refreshed Catallaxy to read this post, I noticed the very apt Liberty Quote:

    “Let us not, however, upon this account rashly conclude that she is capable of supporting any burden, nor even be too confident that she could support, without great distress, a burden a little greater than what has already been laid upon her. ” (Adam Smith)

    Planned quote or serendipity ?
    Regards
    Ken

  7. Tel

    The mobile system also requires power, so that also goes down when the power fails.

    No, the mobile towers are backed up by batteries, just like the land-line telephone exchanges have been since they were invented.

    What is difficult to get accurate data on is how much battery time you get, and whether all the networks offer the same. If you search around places like Whirlpool there’s informal estimates, this discussion (from 2012) mentions that Telstra usually gives 8 hours, sometimes more, and Optus had great difficulty during the Qld floods.

    https://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1854716

  8. Tel

    However the economics of the system will tend to drive reliable power out of business. This will be an interesting process to observe, unless you run a business with ovens or freezers.

    Maybe, maybe not. Once the grid power becomes less reliable it creates a huge secondary market for local battery technology, and in doing so it devalues the grid itself. When the central planners prove they are shit, the decentralized planners make alternative arrangements.

    For example, I notice that those small butane gas cookers are turning up in shops everywhere and as the volume increases the price of butane cylinders seems to be actually going down. Someone else could maybe do the maths, I’ve misplaced my plug-in electrical energy meter, but could be cheaper to boil the kettle on butane (and extremely reliable technology, cheap and pretty much infallible other than the piezo igniter that eventually claps out).

  9. BoyfromTottenham

    An interesting post, Rafe. However, if every magawatt of unreliable energy added to the network needs to backed up by an equal amount of reliable energy, then surely the percentage of unreliables will fall? Or don’t the proponents of unreliables count the backup that needs to be added?
    I agree that in either case the unreliables will destabilise the otherwise stable inertial network, but the instability will clearly be worse if an equal amount of reliable backup is not added. And if the reliable backup is added, then the cost-effectiveness (if you can call it that) of the unreliables is far worse.
    as for the states that are in trouble because of unreliables, at some point soon the sensible states will run out of exportable (spare) reliable power. And then the crunch will happen. I wonder which government will blink first?

  10. duncanm

    .. Or rely on IT, deep sewerage

    forget deep sewerage — the hilly parts of Sydney have a sewage pumping station in the local gully behind every suburb.

    I wonder what the greenies would think of 2M people’s waste flowing into all the local watercourses.

  11. John Constantine

    The tipping point is when the chicom dogbox developments become high rises packed with people cooking over charcoal braziers, gas barbies and open fires.

    Tossing their rubbish out the window.

    Including bedpan contents.

    Comrades.

  12. I asked this question a couple of weeks ago, but seeing that it’s still applicable to the issue:
    “Anyone who adds water to the town water supply, must make it compatible with the standards.
    Anyone who builds a road must make it comply with the standards held.
    So how come the electricity supply from renewables doesn’t have to be compatible with the standards? Our coal and hydro generators supply power that adheres to the standard because the plants have massive flywheels that even out the fluctuations. So why don’t the windmills and solar power plants have to provide the flywheels/storage to even out their loads to meet the standard?”
    Why does the renewable scam get a pass on substandard product when water and roads don’t?

  13. .

    That’s just ordinary market adjustment Tel. The scale economies in production exist now.

  14. John Constantine

    Look at the economic devastation of Northern and Southern Ireland after the ira mafia blew up the interconnectors, ending the open trading of electricity that enriched all Ireland.

  15. BoyfromTottenham

    duncanm – re your ‘I wonder what the greenies would think of 2M people’s waste flowing into all the local watercourses.’. They would find an excuse to blame ‘greedy private enterprise’ or the like for the problem – anything except their pet meme to jour. God I hope I live long enough to see and end to this CAGW madness.

  16. duncanm

    BFT – they need to start building windfarms and waste treatment plants in every green electorate.

    You know it makes sense — waste treatment can probably handle a bit of power intermittency, if the storage volume is large enough.

  17. hzhousewife

    duncanm – re your ‘I wonder what the greenies would think of 2M people’s waste flowing into all the local watercourses.’. They would find an excuse to blame ‘greedy private enterprise’ or the like for the problem – anything except their pet meme to jour. God I hope I live long enough to see and end to this CAGW madness.

    Kerryn Phelps, as a medical doctor and politician, needs to be all over this. I hope someone enlightens her. She could rise to the challenge of fixing it!

  18. Leo G

    No, the mobile towers are backed up by batteries, just like the land-line telephone exchanges have been since they were invented.

    When I checked on this several years ago, I found that the main carriers planned for battery backup of 2 to 8 hours depending on the availability/proximity of generator backup. Mobile generators are not particularly useful for major outages that affect large numbers of towers. The situation in Queensland at the time was that Telstra planned for 80 mobile generators statewide, so I expect that remains the situation there and in other states.

  19. RobK

    No, the mobile towers are backed up by batteries,
    The phone towers were good for about 2hrs during the Salmon Gum bushfires in WA, a couple of years ago. There was an undertaking to improve on that, iirc.

  20. yarpos

    Lose Internet because NBN?

    What magic kept it working pre nbn without power?

  21. they need to start building […] waste treatment plants in every green electorate.

    To process the green voters?

  22. RobK

    Duncanm,
     waste treatment can probably handle a bit of power intermittency, if the storage volume is large enough.

    It not the treatment plants so much (that’s another matter ), its getting the “product” to the plant. As indicated above, there are many sewer pump stations in all large centres. They cycle several times per hour. No storage to speak of until you get to the treatment plant.

  23. Roger

    So how come the electricity supply from renewables doesn’t have to be compatible with the standards?

    Privileged status.

    The new hardware and tech necessary to integrate renewables with the grid will be paid for by the poorest who have no option but to remain on it.

  24. No, the mobile towers are backed up by batteries, just like the land-line telephone exchanges have been since they were invented.

    Christmas 2011 or 2012, our local phone tower went out for a week, for whatever reason, before it was fixed. The thing is, every communication system relies on power, backups are usually intended for very short periods of time. Murphy is always waiting to bugger the best laid plans and renewables could have been designed by Murphy himself.

  25. stackja

    Carpe Jugulum
    #2845601, posted on October 21, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Add to this, if you lose power in Oz because have the NBN you will also lose fixed land lines and internet.

    Kev didn’t mention this?

  26. Art Vandelay

    When I checked on this several years ago, I found that the main carriers planned for battery backup of 2 to 8 hours depending on the availability/proximity of generator backup. Mobile generators are not particularly useful for major outages that affect large numbers of towers.

    Yep, during the 2016 SA statewide blackout, they started going down after around 2-3 hours.

  27. Aynsley Kellow

    Increasing penetration by renewables has increased prices everywhere from California to Germany. This is covered in a good article by Michael Shellenberger here:
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/04/23/if-solar-and-wind-are-so-cheap-why-are-they-making-electricity-more-expensive/#657e8c71dc66

    It seems that the impact on prices really takes off when the share of renewables exceeds around 30%. This is covered in a paper by Lion Hirth here:
    https://www.neon-energie.de/Hirth-2013-Market-Value-Renewables-Solar-Wind-Power-Variability-Price.pdf
    That makes Shorten’s target of 50% renewables reckless in the extreme.
    (Apologies – I was having some problems embedding the links).

  28. Chris M

    Shopping centre near my house is currently doing a massive install of solar panels, many thousands of them. I’m a bit concerned about localised voltage fluctuations due to intermittent clouds etc. Maybe I need to monitor or log the voltage.

  29. Mark M

    Surely the same thing is happening here with our water and electricity prices:

    Federally mandated low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets are taking a financial toll on the nation’s water utilities, leaving customers to make up the shortfall with higher water rates and new fees that have left many paying more for less.
    Utility officials say they understand that charging more for water because demand has dropped might seem to violate a basic premise of Economics 101.
    But utilities that generally charge by the number of gallons used are beginning to feel the financial pinch of 20 years of environmentally friendly fixtures and appliances, as older bathrooms and kitchens have been remodeled, utility experts say.
    Federal laws aimed at conserving water limit toilets that once needed up to seven gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons.
    Shower heads that spewed up to eight gallons per minute are being replaced with sprays of about 2.5 gallons.
    Adding to the problem, Washington-area utilities say, is the fact that consumption is falling as costs are mounting to upgrade sewer systems and repair and replace aging water pipes, some more than a century old, that are bursting after decades of decay and neglect.
    Meanwhile, utilities’ costs — electricity, chemicals and labor — have continued to rise.

    Alan Roberson of the American Water Works Association called it a “converging storm.”
    “Pretty much every utility across the country is seeing it,” he said.
    “It’s a combination of infrastructure needs going up as per capita water usage is going down.”

    http://www.wpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/water-utilities-charge-more-to-offset-low-flow-toilets-faucets-and-shower-heads/2014/08/03/b883a1ca-1804-11e4-9e3b-7f2f110c6265_story.html?tid=hpModule_99d5f542-86a2-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394

  30. RobK

    Chris M,
    . Maybe I need to monitor or log the voltage.
    If you are inclined that way, it’s not a bad idea. A cheap multimeter with isolated optical input and recording software for a computer is only about $70 from China on ebay. Your voltage stability will depend on where you are in relation to the nearest transformer and the types of loads (and RE feeds) in your area. The utility can change taps on transformers easily to make the average closer to the mid point in specification. More expensive components are needed if it gets beyond specification. Generally, someone needs to tell them (even if they have suspicions and do their own surveys). Its probably best to consult your electrician.

  31. RobK

    Oops, i meant “isolated optical output.

  32. RobK

    I should add; if you are having noticable voltage or power issues, your electrician should be able to persuade your supplier to do a thorough survey. Ultimately it is in their interest to do so.

  33. Rob

    At any time the AEMO’s Data Dashboard shows massive flows of electricity back and forth across the state interconnectors. The interconnectors are sturdy yet fragile at the same time – a switching failure, low flying aircraft, lightning strike, or unprotected overload can bring one down. With no alternative circuits as back-up, a failure could be catastrophic.
    One needs to keep lanterns handy and gas bottles ready, and keep your vehicle’s fuel tank topped up.

  34. egg_

    No, the mobile towers are backed up by batteries, just like the land-line telephone exchanges have been since they were invented.

    There’s a vast gulf between the backbone network, with its no-break power supply, and a cell tower in Upper Bumcrack.

  35. RobK

    There’s a vast gulf between the backbone network, with its no-break power supply, 
    True, but this is getting away from grid electricity argument because the cost is on another level.

  36. Bruce

    So, in the superannuated quiz-kid’s world, is there “special” flammable “gas” which does not produce Carbon Dioxide or water vapour on combustion?

  37. egg_

    this is getting away from grid electricity argument

    The backbone network is basically the Telcos’ “grid”.
    Folks are more dependent on Communications than Energy nowadays (in the first instance), viz the Greens whinging at the lack of mobile coverage during the Queensland floods.
    The fact that cell towers are dependent on the grid should be of concern.

  38. Diogenes

    Lose Internet because NBN?

    What magic kept it working pre nbn without power?

    Because you had your own unbroken connection of copper, which conducts elektrickery, back to the exchange, which put several volts down the line. Whilst the exchange has power; mains, battery or genny, you have phone & interwebs.

    As the NBN is mostly glass (ie optical) running either all the way, to your house, the kerb, or the green box near your local pillar. One of the properties of glass is that it will not conduct that elektrickery stuff so no power comes down the line. If you have FTTN (green boxes near pillars) , each of those boxes requires external power to run the boxen that convert the light being bounced down the glass into the elektrickery pulses to be carried by the remnant of copper to your house.

  39. John Constantine

    Before mobile phones, the bush used uhf radio.

    Will we return to uhf radio in emergencies, or step up to satellite phones?.

    SAS global is a small Aussie company offering satellite phone and internet to third world countries with unreliable infrastructure.

    Like us.

    Comrades.

  40. Dr Faustus

    The ‘tipping point’ will come when reality bites and the renewable [ahem] market discovers that the East Coast gas infrastructure cannot supply enough gas to ‘firm’ any more renewable projects. At 45% renewables, on a suddenly still and cloudy day, the instantaneous demand for gas for backup turbines would be roughly equivalent to 100% of the total existing domestic gas market.

    We are almost at that choke-point now – when Liddel and one more coal fired station are shut we will have arrived by a decent margin.

  41. egg_

    We are almost at that choke-point now – when Liddel and one more coal fired station are shut we will have arrived by a decent margin.

    And our current crop of retail politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats will have us sailing over that cliff at the current rate.

  42. MACK

    “At 45% renewables, on a suddenly still and cloudy day, the instantaneous demand for gas for backup turbines would be roughly equivalent to 100% of the total existing domestic gas market.”
    We’re on the way – right now at almost 8 pm, there is no sun and no wind in almost all of SA and Victoria. Neither state is meeting demand. The best outcome is for the climate change zealots to have their way and the system collapse. Only a disaster will bring these people to their senses.
    http://www.nem-watch.info/widgets/reneweconomy/

  43. Snoopy

    I can’t wait. The sooner it happens the better. I’d love to see permanent loadshedding at peak times in Wentworth.

  44. 132andBush

    Related topic re CAGW and all the new “energy” sources.

    Can anyone here provide the cons wrt CO2 conversion to ethanol using “surplus electricity”?

    I’m harvesting for a farmer who seems very enamored with the concept.

  45. Nob

    There’s no tipping point.

    Just a descent into morass.

    Blaming climate change, privatisation and extreme far right gender normative white male fascists.

  46. John Constantine

    Carbon dioxide to methanol was an interest a while back, as Australia has massive stranded natural gas fields, with percentages of carbon dioxide mixed with the natural gas pushing 20%.

    The economics of producing from these fields hinged on what to do with the co2.

    Giant floating methanol plants were the dream, but it never worked.

    If a free feedstock of co2, underpinned by the profit from a massive gas field couldn’t get the carbon dioxide to methanol plant to be economic, something big needs to change.

    Maybe give the concession to alex turnbull?.

    Comrades?.

  47. Helen

    I vote that power rationing occurs first in those electorates who rate unreliables highly. Like Wentworth. Then they can walk the walk, lead by example, etc.

  48. John Constantine

    https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20121116/pdf/42b7s1v81wbj6s.pdf

    Tassie shoals carbon dioxide to methanol plant proposal.

  49. Entropy

    The ‘tipping point’ will come when reality bites and the renewable [ahem] market discovers that the East Coast gas infrastructure cannot supply enough gas to ‘firm’ any more renewable projects. At 45% renewables, on a suddenly still and cloudy day, the instantaneous demand for gas for backup turbines would be roughly equivalent to 100% of the total existing domestic gas market.

    At that point the federal government will steal Queensland’s CSG production currently earning export dollars for domestic supply in southern markets.

  50. 132andBush

    Sounds almost too good to be true, John 🙂

  51. John Constantine

    Unfortunately 132, the great dreams never quite got up and running.

    I made a buck out of the trading, but was quicker on the uptake and trigger finger then.

  52. Bruce

    123and Bush:

    CO2 conversion to ethanol using “surplus electricity”?

    Vapourware. Spectacularly inefficient use of electricity, at the very least.

    In the real world there is an aeons-old, solar-powered process called “photosynthesis” that converts sunshine and water to sugars.

    Then, using millennia-old technology, these are fed to friendly microbes that provide us with wine and beer, for starters. With any luck, there is a bit of feed-stock left over for more trivial pursuits, like bread-making.

    Inextricably inherent in modern baking is the production of considerable amounts of Carbon Dioxide that causes the “fluffy” nature of modern bread. The “fresh-bread smell” that has such a powerful allure is partly due to the ethanol “cooking off” during baking.

  53. Pedro99

    Here’s the answer, from an email I received from my energy supplier – Energy Australia, just the other day! If decide to sign up, I can receive a $5 credit on their next bill, up to max of $20 depending on to what degree of participation in each “Energy Saving Event”. Go figure!? This is what we’ve come to!?

    When demand for electricity is high the grid can be stretched to its limits. Sometimes support from households like yours is needed to help relieve the strain. That’s why we’ve launched PowerResponse.

    PowerResponse rewards customers for making simple changes to their energy use to help lessen demand on the grid during peak times.

    Get involved
    Join PowerResponse and we’ll be in touch by SMS through the year to invite you to voluntarily reduce your energy use when the grid needs a helping hand.

    Interesting fine print at bottom of the email too:

    This activity received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Programme – Demand Response.

  54. Nob

    Greenies hate methanol too, because fossil fuel.

    They especially hate CO2 capture because it would be like fossil fuel producers buying indulgences.

    I like CO2 capture if it involves drilling, but it’s a bit wanky.
    Wasted effort.

  55. Dr Faustus

    At that point the federal government will steal Queensland’s CSG production currently earning export dollars for domestic supply in southern markets.

    That is indeed the Government first response. Turnbull (PBUH) and Fraudenberg tried that with the gas producers on price – and Shorten chimed in in support.

    Trashing Australia’s sovereign risk and reputation as a safe investment destination is easy peasy. The real technical problem is transporting the molecules from Queensland to burn in gas turbines in NSW, SA and Victoria. Suddenly, unpredictably, and at great rates.

    Even Kerryn Phelps canna defy the laws of physics.

    Fortunately there are a number of fairly straightforward engineering solutions. The only trouble is the Australian economy will have to pay the cost of hundreds of billions of wasteful dollars spent in over-building the pipeline infrastructure to allow renewables to conk out as the weather dictates.

  56. I vote that power rationing occurs first in those electorates who rate unreliables highly. Like Wentworth. Then they can walk the walk, lead by example, etc.

    Like the celebrities etc that fly around the world in private jets telling the deplorables they should live an austere life to save the world?

  57. Tel

    Trashing Australia’s sovereign risk and reputation as a safe investment destination is easy peasy. The real technical problem is transporting the molecules from Queensland to burn in gas turbines in NSW, SA and Victoria. Suddenly, unpredictably, and at great rates.

    Methane gas is quite easy to store locally, and the pipeline itself provides at least some energy storage as well as transport.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, once you link yourself into international commodity markets, you pay the international market price for those commodities. That’s the whole idea of things being fungible. The only way to prevent that is cut us from the market, which effectively means banning exports or heavily taxing them.

  58. cohenite

    The tipping point is when the IC of coal fired power is less than the baseload demand because on one of the many days when refuckingnewables are not producing power rationing will have to occur. The fun will be which sections of the grid are shut off. The AEMO has anticipated this by introducing the Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) which legislates compulsory switching off by selected high energy use industries at the direction of the AEMO in times of high demand and low supply.

    Phelps and her ilk should be run out of town on a rail.

  59. hzhousewife

    compulsory switching off by selected high energy use industries

    I’m sure this isn’t widely known or understood by the general population.

    I can’t wait for it to happen once a week all summer, something serious HAS to happen to wake people up.

  60. Helen

    wrong thread before

    If the Wentworth message was climate change, how come the green vote wasn’t higher?

  61. Tezza

    I reckon Rafe’s rules of thumb for maximum non-disruptive supplies of non-dispatchable renewables are about right.

    The most thoughtful working through of these issues from first principles I have come across is from John Morgan. He develops the argument that the practical limit on any one source of renewable power, taken alone, is about its capacity factor (say 15% for solar, taken alone), and that a sort of Gresham’s law of energy applies: non-dispatchable power drives out dispatchable power, and where there are several forms of non-dispatchable power, the least reliable forms (solar) drive out the more reliable forms such as wind: https://bravenewclimate.com/2015/06/05/less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts-rethinking-all-of-the-above-clean-energy/

    Morgan also has a very good empirical piece on the capacity factor of wind in practice, in Australia:

  62. Dr Faustus

    Methane gas is quite easy to store locally, and the pipeline itself provides at least some energy storage as well as transport.

    Gas turbines use gas at a very high rate compared to other industrial uses. If they are built out to support 45% of the east coast electricity market at 5 minutes notice on a still, dull day, the storage capacity of the pipeline system would be used up within a couple of hours, at most.

    The inertia caused by the need to introduce replacement gas a thousand+ kilometres from the off-take points and repressurising the pipeline system is the problem.

    It’s easy enough – and technically true – to say that it’s easy to store methane locally. The devil is in the engineering detail of how, where, at what cost, and what recovery time.

  63. Rafe Champion

    Is there any place comparable to the AEMO dashboard that indicates deliberate and non deliberate outages and the demands on selected users to restrain consumption? I suppose that is the last thing that the wreckers want to be readily available. It would be nice to find some way to log these events so the Cat could be the go to site for the information.
    There is probably a not very long list of high end users, what if we find a mole in each one to keep us up to date?

  64. Bootstrapper

    @Mack “Only a disaster will bring these people to their senses.” I doubt that. They’re true-believers. But it will wake the rest of the electorate up, to the GW scam with appropriate results at the following election.

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