Monday, September 25, 2023

Rooftop solar 'cannibalising' power prices as Australian generators pay to stay online

"Ecological" power generation is basically nuts. It tries to get something stable out of power sources with wildly fluctuating outputs. Basically, everybody loses. For much of the day both the ecological generators AND the conventional generators lose -- as a big daytime electicity suplus plunges power prices so low that ALL generators get nothing or near nothing for their output

Daytime power prices are plunging into negative territory – meaning generators have to pay to produce – as renewable energy increasingly cannibalises the market, according to experts.

As the share of green energy in Australia's biggest electricity system momentarily reached a record high of 70 per cent this week, energy software company Gridcog said "price cannibalisation" was becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.

Wholesale power prices in the national electricity market across the eastern states dropped to as low as -$64 per megawatt hour last Saturday, when soaring output from millions of rooftop solar panels flooded into the system.

The phenomenon is particularly pronounced in mild, sunny conditions and especially on weekends, when solar output is at its highest but demand for electricity is relatively low.

In a post to its social media followers, Gridcog said large-scale solar farms were, perversely, being hit hardest by the trend because rooftop solar was generally beyond the control of the market operator.

It noted utility-scale solar plants were having to pare back generation or switch off entirely during such periods to avoid having to pay to maintain production.

"Price cannibalisation is a major emerging feature of the energy transition," the company wrote on LinkedIn.

"It occurs when increased volumes of renewables with the same generation profile produce at the same time.

"This depresses prices in the market, often to the point that prices turn negative, and it presents a serious challenge for investors, particularly of utility-scale projects."

The firm said the trend was likely to accelerate as ever-more solar was added to household and business rooftops across the country.

More than 3.3 million Australian homes have solar panels – almost one in three – and there are forecasts this will almost double by 2032.

"These systems compete directly with large utility-scale assets connected to the transmission system," Gridcog wrote.

"As an aside, it also demonstrates the dominance that distributed [rooftop] solar has in Australia compared to utility-scale, something we expect to see more of in other markets in coming years."

Dylan McConnell, a senior research associate from the University of New South Wales, said rooftop solar was no longer a marginal player but central to the running of the grid.

He said the technology was reshaping the power system in sometimes unexpected ways. "It's very significant in some jurisdictions," Dr McConnell said. "It varies across the country, but in places like South Australia there are periods where production from rooftop solar actually exceeds the demand of the entire state. "It's huge."

Dr McConnell said SA was an extreme example of a different, though related, phenomenon known as minimum operational demand.

The term referred to the minimum level of demand for power from the grid.

Crucially, it stripped out the demand that customers were meeting themselves through resources that sat behind the meter — principally, rooftop solar.

Dr McConnell said generation from rooftop solar panels was so great at times that it was not only meeting owners' demands, but also those of most other customers as well.

He said this was pushing demand for power from the grid ever lower and squeezing out conventional generators such as coal- and gas-fired plants.

But Dr McConnell said the electricity system was not ready to run without those generators, which were increasingly having to ramp up and down to cope with the intermittency of solar supply.

"The other day in NSW, [coal generation] was just above two gigawatts in the middle of the day, and then that evening it was above 9GW," he said.

"So we had a 7GW ramp in the space of a few hours — they're capable of doing it.

But then, I guess more importantly, is the impact on economic viability." That, says Dr McConnell, represents the challenge.

"When you have low prices in the middle of the day and low volumes, is the increase in prices in the evening and the higher volumes there enough to offset that? The answer to that seems to be no."

Alex Wonhas, a former electricity system planner, noted that record lows for demand for power from the grid were being broken routinely as more and more rooftop solar was added to the system.

"At times when the renewable resources are high they will replace the conventional generators," Dr Wonhas said.

"But then at other times when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining we need either storage or conventional generators to step in.

"So it's a much more dynamic and much orchestrated system that we're facing in the future."

For Dr McConnell, the growth of rooftop solar in Australia would continue to test other generators and the power system more broadly.


No diversity in public support for "Voice"

One thing that is now undeniably clear is that virtually all of our elites who, with tedious regularity, espouse the dogma of diversity are unfluctuatingly uniform in their opinions.

No one could genuflect at the altar of diversity more assiduously than just pushed out Qantas head-honcho Alan Joyce. And so there was never going to be any surprise as regards his views on how to vote in the upcoming Voice referendum. Or whether he would spend shareholders’ monies, lots of them, to push that preferred line.

Try to name a senior corporate executive in a publicly listed company in this country who has come out openly for the ‘No’ side, the one polls show is supported by over half of Australians. Go on. I’ll wait while you ponder given that I’ve got a few hours till my delayed Qantas flight leaves. Or what about the charities? All sorts of them are sending monies and support to the ‘Yes’ side; they are dipping into the charitable donations that were sent to them by regular people, of whom at least half will vote ‘No’ if the polls are to be believed. Again, try to name the head of a single charity who has come out for ‘No’. I don’t know about you dear readers but from this day forth I will be asking if any charity took sides on the Voice referendum before giving it a penny. And that most certainly also goes for giving money to any university. Give money to one of the unis that came out officially for ‘Yes’ and you are part of the problem, not the solution. Ditto for every single one of the charities in this country. If they and their boards opted to come out for ‘Yes’ then all of us ‘No’ voters should tell them where to get off next time the request for money comes in. Don’t just stop giving. Tell them explicitly why not and make sure your answer gets to the CEO or Board.

We can play the same game with each and every one of our universities’ Vice-Chancellors and their staggeringly large retinues of virtually world’s highest paid Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellors et. al. (and yes, there are Deputy Vice-Chancellors ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ who define what it means to have a ‘bullsh*t’ job, one where getting rid of the job altogether would make the enterprise work better) all busy shoving Woke orthodoxy down the throats of faculty and students alike. You’d be hard-pressed to get an independent thought out of a handful of our university high-level administrators as regards the transgender issue, the old issue of stopping the boats, the former government’s response to Covid, same-sex marriage, cutting back on the incessant ‘acknowledgements of country’, the list goes on into the horizon. And when it comes to the Voice referendum, bravery for these people amounts to staying formally neutral. Did you know that over half of our universities have come out officially for ‘Yes’? Not a single one has come out for ‘No’. Rather, the remainder are purportedly staying neutral, though many of those are pushing information sessions for faculty and students so skewed (‘Getting to Yes’ sums it up) they would make a feminist seminar on toxic masculinity look even-handed by comparison.

I don’t suppose I need even bother to point out that the worldviews of the Canberra public service bigwigs cover the whole spectrum of viewpoints from A almost to B. Well, on a good day that is, while they are all wearing purple and celebrating International Refugee Day before heading off to a three-day Welcome to Country ceremony.

Put bluntly, and all jesting aside, under the banner of ‘diversity’ we are being delivered incredible uniformity of thought. ‘Monolithic orthodoxy’ sums it up. Now, of course, in part this remarkable uniformity of expressed views is just cowardice. Quiet dissenters and apostates have comfortable, highly-paid jobs; some have families to feed and mortgages to pay. They go with the flow and keep their heads down. Some no doubt complain privately at home about the wall-to-wall woke orthodoxy. But then many are real believers. These people hire fellow travellers and they sure don’t look keen to hire heterodox non-conformists and encourage them to speak their minds.

At this point I hear a few of you muttering, ‘Why does it really matter? This is all just cultural stuff. Why fight the culture wars? The left has won.’ I strongly disagree. Everything is downstream of culture and we all do need to fight on this most-important-of-all terrain. But suppose that’s wrong. Well, this all-encompassing canonical orthodoxy of thinking also plays out in non-culture-related areas too. Just think about the lack of any independent views during the Morrison government’s response to Covid. My kingdom for an Anders Tegnell or Ron DeSantis in Australia.

Or take this country’s monetary and fiscal policy. For years and years before Covid we were printing money with a gay abandon (a phrase you wouldn’t use in the Canberra public service I suspect). Interest rates were down around zero. Now I grew up under the dominant economic view that policy settings ought to favour savers more than borrowers. To encourage the good old-fashioned Protestant virtues and all that. Not any more, that’s for sure. So when did the Reserve Bank and Treasury become wall-to-wall Keynesians? Because it sure seems to me that this is the dominant – make that virtually the sole – view of those pulling our economic levers. It’s a monolithic orthodoxy. Frankly, I think we need a ‘red team’ of Milton Friedman types to prod and push back against what we’re doing. Forget blaming Russia. Grossly over the top government spending and the obscene expansion of the money supply by our and others’ central banks would be what I nominated as the main cause of our bad inflation. Followed by the terrible decision-making during the pandemic. Nor do current interest rates seem to me likely to get the actual problem of inflation under control – so no, I don’t trust the official package of goods used to measure inflation at the moment. Remember, inflation is a tax. It benefits governments with big debts and hits the hard-working middle classes. It’s a form of government theft. Last Sunday night before putting on the TV I went to get some petrol and a couple of Magnum ice-cream bars. The latter were six dollars each. I can remember driving to the same petrol station when they were half that.

I ask again, do our top economic decision-makers encourage a bit of unorthodox thinking? A red team? Or is it wall-to-wall Keynesian orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that Liberal Cabinet Ministers can’t be bothered to push back against.

Last point about all this orthodoxy of outlook across all of our elite institutions. You know what it tends to do? It tends to foster amongst these people a toxic dose of their own perceived virtue, as though after 3.8 billion years on earth they are the pinnacle of moral evolution. The odds, I’m afraid, are against this self-delusion.


Will no university students ever fail now?

British politician Enoch Powell famously said ‘All political lives end in failure’ – a proposition amply corroborated by his own career. Scholars are vulnerable to a similar fate. To paraphrase the famous anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, academics can be certain of two things: someday, they will all be dead, and eventually, they will all be proven wrong. (Sahlins’ tip for a successful scholarly career: make sure the first precedes the second.)

Even superstars fail. In a classic Nike advertisement, basketball legend Michael Jordan confesses to missing more than 9,000 shots and losing almost 300 basketball games in his career. ‘Twenty-six times,’ he says, ‘I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life.’ Then he delivers the line that has attracted millions of people to view the ad on YouTube: ‘And that is why I succeed.’

Jordan’s message is motivating and inspiring, but it’s also worrying. If failure is essential to success, then what are the prospects for our current crop of students who have never experienced failure of any kind? No school student is held back, summer school repeats are rare, and first-class honours are becoming the typical university grade. What happens when these students move out of education, where success is now the norm, to a world in which failure is ubiquitous? Never having had to deal with setbacks, never having failed at anything, will they have the capacity to cope? We will soon find out.

Over the past 20 years, government policy has resulted in an avalanche of university students. The highest-ranked institutions swept up the best-prepared applicants, forcing the less prestigious universities to lower their entry standards drastically. Not surprisingly, many of these poorly prepared students are finding themselves unable to complete their courses; dropout rates have climbed to record levels.

Under the rules governing accreditation, Australian universities have a legal requirement to ensure that the students they admit have the educational background and study support to complete their courses. It appears that universities have flaunted this requirement, so the government has stepped in.

In a daring display of its unshakeable commitment to the academic success of its constituents, the federal government has introduced legislation that could revolutionise, or perhaps obliterate, the way we understand the concept of failure. Call it the ‘No Student Left Behind – Especially If They’ve Failed’ Act. It’s an ambitious move, guaranteeing the total eradication of that ghastly ‘F’ word from the Australian educational system: failure.

The Australian government is mandating that university students who score less than 50 per cent in their exams shall be entitled to a slew of educational life-savers. University-funded tutoring, counselling, examination do-overs, special exams and extended deadlines are all on the table. With these bountiful resources at their disposal, no student will ever feel the sting of failure again. And to ensure universities are as invested in the success of their students as the government, a hefty fine of $18,780 per student will be introduced for those institutions that fail to help their students rise above the 50 per cent benchmark.

If Dante were alive, he might have added a tenth circle to his Inferno for the university administrators who will have to deal with this fiscal sword of Damocles. Instead of cramming more students into lecture halls and labs, universities will have to find funds for an army of tutors, counsellors and exam monitors.

But worry not, for the Education Minister has spoken: ‘Universities should be helping students to succeed, not to fail.’ It’s a comforting thought, almost reminiscent of a fairy tale ending. It gives students a cosy sense of assurance that the government is there, always ready to sweep in and replace the big bad wolf of failure with the benevolent fairy godmother of success. But will it work?

Tim Harford fears it won’t. In his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Follows Failure, Harford claims that messing up is central to learning. Students gain more from mistakes, blind alleys and dead ends than from success. Failures give students the opportunity to ‘pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again’.

Such resilience is essential because becoming an expert is a long process, at least 10,000 hours, says Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Expertise takes a long time to acquire because, outside of universities, 50 per cent is not good enough. The real world has higher standards. Businesses will collapse if their accountants are only 50 per cent accurate, computer programs that work only half the time are useless, and no one would be happy if surgeons fluffed half their operations. A 10,000-hour apprenticeship provides plenty of opportunities for students to learn from their errors, and everyone knows that practice makes perfect.

Failing is not only essential to honing one’s skills, but it also provides the chance to cultivate oneself (‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’). The character traits forged by experiencing and overcoming failure are necessary for success in any field. Tenaciousness, resilience, drive, perseverance and the ability to delay gratification while working toward a distant goal are just as crucial in achieving success as intelligence. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth calls this combination of character traits ‘grit’. It comes from confronting failure and overcoming it. Without failure, progress is impossible.

Universities, faced with high costs and potential fines, may be tempted to take the easy way out and pass every single student. That view might sound cynical, but it is realistic. Will a university degree retain its lustre when passing becomes an expected, almost mundane occurrence rather than a reward for hard work, grit and resilience? If everyone is a winner, is anyone winning anything at all?

But these are long-term concerns and our politicians are unable to think beyond the next election campaign. They look forward to offering voters a world where failure ceases to exist and success requires no effort. A world in which every student gets a degree just for showing up.

It’s an idyllic vision that might catch on across the globe. Imagine a future in which everyone gets a shot at the Grand Dream, even if their exam scores are below 50 per cent, a time in which the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ has shut its doors forever. Fans of Horatio Alger novels, the stoic pioneers who defined the ethos of hard work and success through perseverance, must be turning in their graves.

The moral of the story, dear reader, is that university failure is on the brink of extinction. At least, it is Down Under. This extraordinary development will have vast repercussions for education, success, and the very nature of our universities.

Of course, we want our students to succeed. But passing every student will ensure just the opposite. By preventing students from experiencing failure, we will keep them from gaining the self-confidence that comes from overcoming it.

If we want young people to be able to handle life’s inevitable slings and arrows, then for their own sake, we must let them fail.


Qld Young Australian of the Year Jean Madden wins fresh victory over police

A YOUNG Australian of the Year wrongly accused of defrauding her own charity for the homeless has won a fresh victory after police were ordered to pay her appeal costs.

Street Swags founder Jean Ellen Madden was vindicated in 2019 after police dropped the last of 16 criminal charges brought against her alleging she had misappropriated funds from the charity between 2015 and 2016.

At a final hearing in December 2019 when a police prosecutor revealed the charges would be discontinued, Ms Madden’s lawyers made an application for costs.

But the application was later refused by a magistrate in June 2020 who found any order for costs needed to have been made prior to the formal dismissal of the charges.

Ms Madden unsuccessfully appealed that decision in the District Court in July 2021 which affirmed the magistrate’s earlier decision.

But she took the fight to the Court of Appeal which ultimately ruled in her favour in March this year, setting aside the earlier decisions from the Magistrates Court and District Court.

The Court of Appeal remitted the costs application back to the Magistrates Court for hearing and determination at a date to be set.

Ms Madden has now had a fresh win in a decision handed down this month, with the appeal court ordering the Commissioner of Police to pay her costs of the appeals process through the District Court and the Court of Appeal.

“Fairness requires that the appellant be indemnified against the costs she incurred in order to obtain a result which accorded with the law, at least to the extent of costs on the standard basis,” the appeal judges wrote.

In 2010, Ms Madden was awarded the title of Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year after founding the charity Street Swags which created innovative, lightweight bedding for the homeless.

Between July 2016 and March 2018, police brought 16 charges against Ms Madden but they were discontinued over subsequent court appearances with the final charges discontinued in late 2019.

At the time, Ms Madden described the charges as malicious, saying the unfounded allegations had destroyed her career and the charity.




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