Monday, July 09, 2018

Why the Future is Not Solar

The point is not that solar should not be considered, but that it should be considered, warts and all, alongside coal, nuclear and hydro with all their drawbacks. Too often, renewables' drawbacks and deficiencies are glossed over, not the least of these being that are unlikely ever to meet global energy needs

The future is solar—apparently. This was the argument advanced by Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks (2018) of the ANU on the blog The Conversation, which tells us on its masthead it combines academic rigour with journalistic flair. Unfortunately, the piece in question demonstrates considerable flair and enthusiasm for solar, but academic rigour is rather harder to find.

An energy future without fossil fuels is appealing, and people frequently imagine that solar energy will allow us to achieve that at little or no cost. Blakers and Stocks had earlier joined with a colleague to tell us that Australia could meet its target under the Paris Agreement with zero net cost (Blakers, Lu and Stocks, 2017). Blakers and Stocks’s piece reinforced the current belief among many that renewables are now competitive with coal-fired electricity generation, just as their enthusiasts said they would become—if only governments supported them with the right policies.

The Australian electricity market might be in a mess, and wholesale prices might have doubled, but—the Blakers and Stocks meme would have it—we are about to reap the rewards of a solar-based cornucopia that will make it all worthwhile. The Blakers and Stocks piece is, unfortunately, based upon an uncritical view of the place of solar energy that is far too sanguine about the prospects for solar, making several errors and glossing over some inconvenient truths.

Blakers and Stocks are leading scientists in the development of solar cells, but they do not seem sufficiently endowed with the scepticism that should accompany any technology. They remind me most of all of the engineers I studied in electric utilities in Tasmania, Victoria, New Zealand, Ontario and British Columbia (Kellow, 1996) who found ways to ensure that their evaluations of alternatives always managed to support their preferred project. Langdon Winner (1978) referred to this as “reverse adaptation”, or the adaptation of ends to suit preferred means, but Abraham Maslow perhaps put the problem most elegantly when he remarked that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to resemble a nail. Experts, in other words, tend to favour the things they are expert in.

I will return to the economics of solar in Blakers and Stocks’s analysis below, but first I point to some of the other statements where they simply gloss over the faults and limitations of solar (and wind) energy—including their environmental limitations.

Some inconvenient solar (and wind) truths

Blakers and Stocks make the following statement:

PV [photovoltaic cells] and wind have minimal environmental impacts and water requirements. The raw materials for PV—silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, aluminium, glass, steel and small amounts of other materials—are effectively in unlimited supply.

Most of these raw materials require energy to produce. There is a debate over whether the energy embodied in various technologies is large enough to offset that which they produce (Fthenakis and Kim, 2007; Ferroni and Hopkirk, 2016; Raugei, et al, 2017; Ferroni, Guekos and Hopkirk, 2017). After dealing with criticisms of their original paper, Ferroni, Guekos and Hopkirk (2017: 498) conclude:

Any attempt to adopt an Energy Transition strategy by substitution of intermittent for base load power generation in countries like Switzerland or further north will result in unavoidable net energy loss.

Australia has better insolation, but there is a global concern here.

What Blakers and Stocks also gloss over with their dismissive “small amounts of other materials” is that the manufacture of PV panels requires the use of small—but still significant—amounts of solvents that have Global Warming Potential numbers around 20,000 times that of carbon dioxide. Nitrogen trifluoride was not covered by the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, but is 16,000 times more powerful a greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide, and sulphur hexafluoride is 23,900 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This means that—on a life-cycle basis in Germany—Ferroni (2014) has suggested that PV solar is worse for climate forcing than gas or coal. Ferroni has calculated that lifetime (twenty-five years) emissions from solar energy in Germany (panels made in China, shipped to Germany, including transport and peripherals) is 978g carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh. For state-of-the-art coal the figure is 846g and for gas (CCGT) 400g.

This is, of course, partly a reflection of the poor insolation in Germany, and Mexico or Australia are more propitious sites. The advantage, in terms of virtue, is that only some of these were covered by the Kyoto Protocol, and the emissions (from inefficient fossil fuel electricity) related to manufacture mostly occur in China and those stemming from energy expended in transport are not charged to Germany.

Moreover, it cannot be assumed that covering vast areas with solar panels has “minimal” environmental impacts. While rainforest has greater aesthetic appeal (especially for environmentalists), the deserts often favoured for PV or solar thermal installations are not without significance. Indeed, there is research that suggests deserts have greater biodiversity than rainforests (Fierer and Jackson, 2006), and covering them with solar arrays does not constitute a minimal impact.

Blakers and Stocks also state that “Wind energy is an important complement to PV because it often produces at different times and places, allowing a smoother combined energy output.”

This is nonsense on stilts.

Often it does—but often it doesn’t. And often both produce negligible amounts—simultaneously. And while the sheer length of the grid in Australia is often used to suggest that the sun is likely to be shining or the wind blowing somewhere, there are substantial transmission losses to be considered. The sun shining in North Queensland is not much help when it is cloudy and calm in South Australia.

Indeed, the Australian Energy Market Operator recently slashed the “marginal loss factor” (MLF) (which reflects transmission losses) for renewables by up to 22 per cent after finding that the contribution of solar and wind to the market was less than expected (Parkinson, 2018). (The MLF calculates the difference between how much is produced by the generating facility, and measured at its meter, and how much is estimated to be delivered to customers.)

There are times in Germany, particularly in winter, when the output from solar and wind has been close to zero. Calm and mists and fogs often go hand-in-hand, as any meteorologist will tell you. This is why Germany continues to use coal and looks to continue to do so in the future. It has little prospect for pumped storage (which is only around 80 per cent efficient, let’s remember), and inquiries to use the more favourable geography of Norway and Switzerland have been met with polite refusals. (Blakers and Stocks have been advocating for pumped storage in Australia, identifying numerous potential sites; the costs—and environmental impacts—of these would have to be charged to an all-renewables future.)

The result of Germany’s Energiewende has been essentially no reduction in GHG emissions because thermal plant often runs at reduced and less efficient loads to accommodate the variability of renewables, and prices that sometimes turn negative, with excesses dumped on neighbours in the European market (undermining their own renewables generators) and increased prices overall for consumers. Germany and Denmark, with the highest proportion of renewables, have the highest prices in the developed world—although South Australia eclipses them both on a pre-tax basis. Subsidies are now ending, and the solar industry in Germany in particular is tottering.

More HERE 

The death of coal power is greatly exaggerated in certain quarters

When the Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley shut down last year, the Australian Conservation Foundation claimed its closure was a signal “the era of polluting coal is coming to an end”.

In its last full year of operation, Hazelwood generated 10 terawatt hours of power. In the past year, global electricity production has ­increased by 590 terawatt hours, almost half of this rise coming through the greater use of coal. In effect, in just one year, the equivalent of almost 30 Hazelwoods has been brought online. So much for an end to the era of coal.

Last week BP released its ­respected Statistical Review of World Energy. It showed a resur­gence in the growth of coal-fired power after a few years of moderate decline. These earlier declines had been heralded as the death of coal but those claims have been shown up for the exaggerations they were.

This year opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler claimed “there is a clear structural shift under way in the global thermal coal market”. Numbers have never been Labor’s strong suit but this takes doublespeak to a new level. Far from structural decline, last year coal-fired power set a record for supply at 9724 terawatt hours. Coal-fired electricity has risen by 62 per cent since 2000. It has been the fastest increase in coal use on record.

These increases are the result of continued investment in coal-fired power stations. China has built the equivalent of 60 Hazelwood coal-fired power stations in five years. That’s equal to a new coal power plant opening every month in China for five years.

The construction of these coal-fired power plants will underpin the demand for coal for decades to come as the typical life of a coal-fired plant is 50 years. Continuing strong demand for coal will help support our terms of trade, our prosperity and employment in our mining sector.

While Australia is the largest exporter of coal, we are not a major producer. We produce just 4 per cent of the world’s coal. We produce a high-quality product that helps increase the performance of coal-fired power stations. This performance boost is even greater in new coal-fired power stations, so the demand outlook for our coal is strong. The buoyant coal market makes it likelier that the Galilee Basin will open up and the Adani Carmichael coalmine (the first in the Galilee) will start. ­

Financial analyst Wood Mac­kenzie estimates that the cost of coal from the Adani coalmine will be about $US40 a tonne. The present coal price is more than $US100 a tonne, so there is a strong commercial rationale to develop these supplies.

That would be great news for Australia. The Galilee would be the first major, new coal basin opened for more than 50 years. There are five other proposed mines in addition to Adani’s and altogether they would create more than 16,000 jobs.

Higher prices reflect that coal is valued by the customer. Coal provides reliable and affordable energy and helps support the economic development of impoverished nations. It is good that Australia becomes more prosperous from the sale of coal. We do so because that sale creates value in another country.

If you value the reduction of poverty and the economic development of poorer nations, the greater use of coal is good. As coal use has increased by more than six times in Asia, poverty (as measured by those living on less than $1.90 a day) has been slashed by 95 per cent.

I hope that world poverty continues to fall. To do that, energy use in poor countries will have to rise and it is almost certain that ­affordable coal-fired power will be part of the equation.

At the very least, poor countries should not have rich countries hypocritically lecture them that they should not use coal. Those same rich countries often are wealthy thanks to their own use of coal.

The use of Australian coal benefits the world because it is cleaner and more efficient, and helps pro­mote economic development, lift­ing millions from poverty. The era of coal is far from nearing an end.


Dan Tehan in fresh push for freedom of religion

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan has called for a religious discrimination act to provide greater protections to people of faith, in a move that raises the stakes for the Turnbull government as it responds to a key ­review of religious freedoms.

Delivering the St Thomas More lecture in Canberra last month, Mr Tehan said the “creeping encroachment from the state on religious belief” was a key issue, given new conflicts in the areas of euthanasia, same-sex marriage and the sanctity of the confessional.

However, he identified the main threat to religious freedom as the growing influence of ­empowered minorities that used political correctness as a weapon against traditional beliefs and ­customs.

The address, being made public today, represents a rallying cry for Coalition MPs who ­expect Malcolm Turnbull to deliver a substantive response to the ­review of religious freedoms led by former attorney-general Philip Ruddock following the same-sex marriage victory last year.

Mr Tehan, who describes himself as a “far-from-perfect Catholic”, said all Australians of faith should “take a stand” and “strongly defend our rights and responsibilities to take part in ­debates of national significance”.

His proposal for a new ­religious discrimination act offers a path for the Turnbull government to legislate at a federal level to address concerns that ­religion is being driven from the public square. Citing John Howard — a leading advocate for traditional marriage — Mr Tehan warned against the rise of “minority fundamentalism”, which the former prime minister has called “the ­assumption that traditional beliefs and practices represent an ­attack on those who do not support them”.

“Australia has reached an ­unusual point where the tools of oppression — sowing the seeds of division, conquest, manipulation and cultural division — are being wielded by the minority against the majority,” Mr Tehan said.

“We have not realised Martin Luther King’s dream of a society where you are judged by the content of your character, not the colour of your skin. Instead we have woken up to a nightmare where the value of your contribution to a debate depends on what you claim to be a victim of.”

Mr Tehan pointed to the push to sack Australian rugby union star Israel Folau over his social media posts on homosexuality and the boycott on Coopers Brewery products after it sponsored a debate between both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

“In a liberal democracy, people must have the freedom to air unpopular views, including those ­informed by their faith, and those views must be open to challenge,” Mr Tehan said. “My observation, however, is that there is more disrespect directed at people who share their faith publicly and that is to the detriment of us all.”

There is frustration in ­Coalition ranks at Mr Turnbull’s ­decision to facilitate the passage of a same-sex marriage bill through parliament last year without a series of protections proposed in a set of amendments.

Promoted by a range of senior MPs, including Scott Morrison, Michael Sukkar and Andrew Hastie, the amendments were supported by a majority of Coalition MPs but defeated on the floor of parliament with Labor opposition.

Liberal senator James Paterson, a supporter of same-sex marriage who advocated for greater protections for religious freedoms, yesterday told The Australian it was important for the government to deliver a meaningful response to the Ruddock review.

“The Ruddock review provides the government with a unique ­opportunity to secure the freedoms of Australians with faith,” Senator Paterson said. “We all ­deserve the equal right to live our lives ­according to our values, free from state coercion.”

There is concern within the ­Coalition that a weak ­response to the Ruddock review could reopen an ideological divide within the government and allow Labor a chance to steal the initiative, given that it holds nine of the western Sydney seats that voted against change in last year’s plebiscite. One Liberal MP said: “The time for action is now. We need to protect conscience and ­religious faith because Labor and the Greens won’t.”

The Ruddock review was ­delivered to the government in May after receiving thousands of submissions. It is unlikely the review or the government response will be released until after the July 28 Super Saturday by-elections.

Mr Tehan bolstered his case for a new religious discrimination act by relying on census data to throw forward to an Australia where people of faith had become a minority with only limited legal protections in the form of ad-hoc exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. He warned the trend towards atheism in the 2016 census was “especially stark” among those aged 18 to 34, with 39 per cent saying they had “no religion” — more than three times the number who identified as Christian. “If this trend continues — and there is no reason to believe it won’t — then one day in the ­future the Australians who are part of any religion will become a minority,” Mr Tehan said.

“In preparation for that day, we need to consider how we will defend religious rights in this country from political correctness.”


Australia has become a Lithium superpower

Lithium-ion batteries have been used in consumer electronics for decades, but their growing use in electric vehicles has, more than any other factor, driven a quadrupling in the price of lithium delivered to China over the past four years.

As lithium became one of the world's hottest markets in recent years, no country moved faster and grabbed the opportunity more successfully than Australia, which has grown its market share of raw lithium production from about 13 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent in 2017.

Industry intelligence firm Roskill estimates Australia will supply 62 per cent of the world's lithium in 2018 on the back of three new mines, including Tawana's Bald Hills, coming into production.

 The growing use of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles has, more than any other factor, driven a quadrupling in ...
The growing use of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles has, more than any other factor, driven a quadrupling in the price of lithium delivered to China over the past four years.

Australia's dominant position in lithium was not delivered by the familiar mining giants that have dominated the local industry over the past century.

It was delivered instead by a crop of penny-dreadful micro-cap stocks that were unknown to most investors, politicians and media until very recently.

For a sector often derided for its old-fashioned ways, those that pounced early on the lithium and battery thematics displayed the sort of "agility" that one might normally associate with tech companies.

To illustrate the speed at which the opportunity was grasped, consider where today's market darling lithium stocks were just a couple of years ago.

ASX listed lithium plays like Pilbara Minerals, Galaxy Resources, Altura Mining and Kidman have each enjoyed share price gains of at least 18-fold, and as much as 30-fold, since June 2015.

When combined with Orocobre, Mineral Resources and Tawana, the seven biggest lithium biggest stocks on the local bourse had a combined market capitalisation of more than $9 billion this week.

A nation can't capitalise on a commodity boom without being blessed with the right geology, but data provided by Roskill suggests that many other nations could have seized the lithium opportunity like Australia did.

Despite producing 62 per cent of the world's lithium this year, Roskill analyst Robert Baylis said Australia holds just 17.1 per cent of the world's defined lithium resources and 12.6 per cent of the world's defined lithium reserves (a classification that implies higher geological certainty than resources).

"Australia is blessed, we have just got this incredible mineral endowment, but the fact we have got a very established mining sector with a very active exploration industry and an equity market that is willing to finance that, does put us in much better stead to be able to deliver these things as industries like this need it, in much the same way that we were able to deliver all the iron ore during the steel boom," said Canaccord Genuity analyst Reg Spencer.

From employing 399 people in December 2014, the number of people employed in the local lithium sector had risen to 2659 people by December 2017, according to WA treasurer Ben Wyatt.

While demand for lithium carbonate remains strong, the manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries are increasingly demanding their lithium in a different chemical compound: lithium hydroxide.

Phil Thick, the local boss of Australia's biggest lithium exporter, Chinese company Tianqi, said the trend toward lithium hydroxide was driven by car manufacturers' desire for their electric vehicle batteries to last longer on the road.

"Lithium hydroxide has become the go-to product ... players like Tesla are only buying lithium hydroxide. The advantages are it gives much better energy density and that leads to much better range, and power and range are the holy grail of electric vehicles," he told an audience in Perth in March.

"Range in particular, to be able to provide cars that go 800 kilometres rather than 200 kilometres is a game changer and everyone is working on achieving that."

For South American producers to convert their lithium carbonate into lithium hydroxide, they generally need to add an extra processing stage, which adds extra cost.

There is no extra cost for Australian hard rock producers, who already require a processing stage to convert their concentrates into lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide.

"Once it is normalised to the battery grade specifications, the entire cost curve changes, and the perceived low-cost brine operations jump well up the cost curve and as a result, the low-cost hard rock operations become probably the lowest cost source of supply globally," Brinsden said.

"That gets to the heart of Australia's opportunity. We will have a series of large, hard-rock lithium raw material mines that will be ultra competitive and probably the lowest cost of supply for the battery market, and especially in the hydroxide category."


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

No comments: