Emissions Renewables

BNC community analysis of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Report

A new report, Zero Carbon Australia 2020, has been released today. Its aim is to “show how Australia can reach 100% renewable energy within a decade, using technology that is commercially available right now“. From their website:

The guiding principles of ZCA 2020 include:

  • Australia’s energy is provided entirely from renewable sources at the end of the transition period.
  • All technological solutions employed are from proven, reliable technology which is commercially available.
  • The security and reliability of Australia’s energy supply is maintained or enhanced by the transition.
  • Food and water security are maintained or enhanced by the transition.
  • Australians continue to enjoy a high standard of living.
  • Social equity is maintained or enhanced by the transition.
  • Other environmental indices are maintained or enhanced by the transition.

The download is an 8.6 MB colour PDF, 194 pages long (including appendices). But it’s a nicely presented document, so it not a difficult read and can be done in parts.

Here, I throw a challenge down to the BNC community — analyse and critique! [I will also participate, of course]. Some guiding principles, in the spirit of TCASE:

1. Be fair — acknowledge what is good and useful about this effort. [From my first skim, I would say 50% is good to excellent, 15% is so-so, 15% is highly dubious and 20% is unmitigated nonsense]

2. Focus on key assumptions — how sensitive are the outcomes to these, and how grounded in reality are they? [Cost for CSP is a good example]

3. What are the gaps? This will help — print out and have it to hand: “A checklist for renewable energy plans

4. What are the biases? Are there examples of cherry picking? What important details have been glazed over?

5. Are the estimates of system reliability, build time and cost, acceptable? [Monthly averages…?]

6. What are the environmental impacts of this plan, compared to alternatives?

And so on. Perhaps the comments can also help me build up this list of guiding principles better aid later commenters.

Okay, BNCers unleashed!

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

560 replies on “BNC community analysis of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Report”

Neil Howes,

You say:

probably only need 21GW of CSP with balance wind.

You must be joking, yes? What would be the cost to give us a reliable electricity supply. Is it even possible?

You have missed my main point. My point is that you argued previously that we could not build nuclear power stations at the rate I had assumed (starting at 1/6 the rate France built them at for two decades som 30 years ago). Yet the ZCA plan is calling for a build rate that would eb the equivalent of 60 times faster.

You say:

We have to consider how many reactors could be under construction in Australia with limited work-force,

True. But why did you make that remark about nuclear build rate rather than about CST and wind, which are of the order of 60 times higer equivalent build rates?


Martin, agree, but I would be curious as to how this passed any rudimentary peer review. It is hard to believe any engineer (21 of the participants are listed as having an engineering degree) with an understanding of the real world could possibly allow this through. This is why I gave the report the benefit of the doubt, with the implication that maybe it started life as a concept but morphed into a serious policy without obtaining a consensus.



When it triggers the spam filter I remove one URL at a time until I find which one (or more) is triggering the spam filter. Then I replace the web link with a description of how to Google for it. I had to do that continually for the link to the NEEDS report so I am an expert now :)


Greens propose $5b renewable loans scheme

The Greens have released a policy to introduce a $5 billion loan guarantee scheme that would complement their target of a zero carbon economy.

They released the policy at the launch of their Tasmanian federal election campaign in Hobart.

Businesses willing to develop large-scale renewable energy projects would be eligible to apply for 100 per cent loan guarantees, similar to a scheme in the United States.

Greens Senator Christine Milne says the scheme would create jobs and give banks the confidence to lend money to renewable ventures in the future.

“Of course it is some risk for government to take on with loan guarantees but the benefits are so much greater because it means we will see the rollout of renewables as quickly as possible across Australia,” she said.

“People trying to seek finance for large-scale renewable energy investments are having difficulties, and this is for solar thermal with storage, for geothermal, for wave power.

“In the United States, having recognised that, they moved to loan guarantees and that has been the basis on which they have managed to get the investment and the shift to renewables.”


From the linked article on the Greens’ loan guarantees policy:

Greens Senator Christine Milne says the scheme would create jobs and give banks the confidence to lend money to renewable ventures in the future.

“Of course it is some risk for government to take on with loan guarantees but the benefits are so much greater because it means we will see the rollout of renewables as quickly as possible across Australia,” she said.

The US government allows loan guarantees for selected NPP projects on the condition that a fee amounting to the estimated proportional default rate be paid as a condition of using the scheme, ie, if the government has calculated that one in twenty projects are likely to fail, then a fee of 5% of the cost to the government in the event of default is charged to each utility or corporation signing up for the scheme. Are the developers of renewable energy projects here to be subject to a similar requirement under the Greens’ policy?


John Newlands
This is a quote from the article on your link;
There are few circumstances where Mountain mode will be actually required, if any, Nitz said. People will still be able to climb mountains, but they can expect a drop in performance once the car’s power source switches over to the 1.6 liter gasoline engine for the biggest mountain ranges in the country, he said.
Is this really an issue for most drivers in US, any more so than most cars not have 4wheel drive?

I would like to see a PHEV travel some mountainous commutes like Adelaide-Mt Barker or Hobart-Huonville and back, assuming no outdoor charging points were available.
I have lived in the Rocky Mountains and in Adelaide, can assure you that the Adelaide hills are just that, hills not mountains!. Anyway why would outdoor charging points not be available you only need a standard 10A, 220V outlet, present in almost every garage, carport or deck? . I have been using an electric mover for years and never had problems finding an outlet at 4 homes.
You are echoing silly comments, you may as well say the Chevy Volt doesnt fly or float, or work in the arctic, sure PHEV’s will not be for everyone, just 90% of drivers for 99% of the time.


Peter Lang,
I accept that the ZCA 2020 plan has unrealistic build rates, and no renewable or nuclear is going to replace 100% coal-fired by 2020. That doesnt mean that CSP or wind will never work.
To be realistic about possible build rates assuming a decision is made next month to start nuclear we need to look at other non-nuclear weapons developed economies that have built a nuclear power industry. Canada is probably the best comparable economy to Australia. France is not comparable to Australia and started a nuclear industry in the 1950’s.
None the less, by 2030 nuclear could make a very significant contribution to reducing coal use( but not replace it 100%), as could addition wind( but not replace coal by 100%).
Its really hard to project what CSP could be built by 2030, or costs. The cost of molten salt storage is not going to preclude its use as an important short term(1-2 days) energy storage medium, and would have the advantage of low losses and high power on demand. The best use of CSP would be for peak demand( and short periods of low wind) supplementing present hydro. Longer term storage using pumped hydro with lower power but much larger storage capacity would be more appropriate to absorb excess wind and to backup longer low wind periods with present NG fired generators also used in winter months for this purpose at an annual capacity of<10%.
If we dont start building CSP and nuclear now, we wont be in a position to use them extensively in 10-20 years and will only have wind with NG back-up as an option.


A new article on solar thermal has just been posted at Climate Spectator.

I posted this comment:

Gas plant with toy solar pllant attached- edit
Submitted by Peter Lang on Mon, 2010-08-09 11:20.
This is a gas plant, not a solar plant, It is 750MW of gas that runs whenever power is demanded of it, plus a 5MW solar thermal plant that runs when the sun shines plus a few extra hours per day using its solar thermal energy storage system. Its a joke.

The cost of the solar component is $20,000/kW and the cost of the gas part is about $1,000/kW.

This is the sort of nonses the greewash renewable energy advocates are wanting us to subscribe to.


Comments on “Zero Carbon Australia”, M. Wright and Hearps, Melbourne Energy Institute, 2010.
Ted Trainer, SSIS, Univ. Of NSW, Kensington. Aust.


1. The energy supply target is far too low. Present Australian final or end-use energy consumption is 3900PJ/y, and ZCA says this can be reduced to 1660. However the report only takes as its task providing the amount of energy services consumed in 2008, whereas the appropriate target is to explain how we can deal with the consumption we are heading towards by 2050 under business as usual, which is around 8000 PJ/y

2. The efficiency gain assumed for electric vehicles should be almost halved.

3. The assumed proportion of travel that can be transferred to electric vehicles is too high, in view of how well people and freight can be got to intended destinations by light vehicles and public transport, and in view of what people will accept.

4. The embodied energy costs of solar thermal plant might be much more than 10 times as high as has been assumed.

5 Far more storage for solar thermal systems needs to be assumed.

6. The calculations seem to take the peak output of solar thermal plant at average annual solar radiation, when the crucial issue is output in winter at the Mildura plant assumed. This would be c. one-third the output used in
the report’s calculations.

Combining clear and confident estimates for all these factors would yield figures for plant requirements, costs and annual investments that would be many times greater than those ZCA arrives at.

ZCA puts forward (another) comforting technical-fix; this affluent, market based growth society can go on comfortably while solving its problems at no great cost. No need to radically change our ways. My view is that global
problems cannot be solved within or by a society committed to affluence, market mechanisms, production for profit and limitless economic growth.

My current understanding of the global (not Australian) situation is summarised in “Can renewables etc solve the greenhouse problem — The negative case.” Energy Policy, Aug. 2010, See The ZCA report has helped me to see some minor mistakes in that analysis, which will enable improvement of
my current attempt to apply the approach to the Australian situation.

Australia is in a much better position re renewables than most if not all other countries.


David Kimble,

Thank you for that link and summary. I want to highlight this statement:

The basic electricity supply strategy ZCA offers is to use all the wind energy all the time, then top up with energy from the solar thermal system, drawing on the 17 hour storage built into each plant. It is claimed that very little hydro and/or biomass would be needed to bring supply from these components up to demand.

It is puzzling why ZCA proceeds as if 17 hour storage of heat in the solar thermal system is enough. What if the next day is cloudy. What if four days in a row or two weeks are pretty cloudy? The main problem for the plan is to provide for Victoria, and the nearest solar thermal plant assumed is at Mildura. Bureau of Meteorology data show that in winter Mildura has more than 11 days a month “cloudy” and only about 7 days a month “clear”. Provision to store for 4 days would require about 5.6 times as much storage capacity as they assume. Even in Central Australia ARDHB (2006) tables show there is a considerable probability of more than a 4 day run of cloud in winter, and longer runs occur. A 4 day task means storage loss would add another 4% to all the other reduction factors operating and not apparently included in ZCA’s performance figures (e.g. absorbers being cooled by wind, noted by Kaneff as significant in the White Cliffs project), and it would add to dollar costs.


I thought if the Mildura solar went through an extended lull then auxiliary boilers onsite would burn hay. That hay would presumably come from some distance away in battery powered trucks. If I understand ZCA correctly the biomass burning would not be done remotely such as in the wheatbelt or nearer Melbourne.


Dave Kimble,

Thanks for posting that link, I’ve looked at Trainer’s analysis. He has a few interesting lines regarding LCA :

“It is good that the report refers to the embodied energy cost of plant, or pay-back time, but I don’t think the brief treatment is satisfactory and I think the figures are far too low. I have found the literature on this issue to be scant and inconclusive and I feel we are not close to a good understanding of the situation. The figure given seems to say about 1% of a solar thermal plant’s life time energy output would be needed to produce the plant. Lenzen’s review (2009) reports 10.7% for central receivers. ZCA ‘s plot seems to indicate perhaps 1% for wind, but ISA states about 7%. ISA’s figure for PV is more than 6 times the figure ZCA assumes.”

“The most important unsettled issue re embodied energy costs is whether a full accounting of all ”upstream” factors has been included. For instance in addition to the energy it takes to produce steel it is important to include the appropriate fraction of the energy it took to produce the steel works, etc. Lenzen and Treloar (2003) argue that for steel a full accounting more or less doubles the figure arrived at. For PV panels Lenzen et al. (2006) conclude that a full accounting actually trebles the commonly stated pay-back time, making payback time equal to one-third of plant lifetime. I am pretty sure no one has carried out such a “full accounting” for solar thermal plant, and this suggests that even the 10.7% figure is likely to be much too low.”

I would further add to Trainer’s comment that a proper LCA of wind farms is yet to be done. An LCA has been performed in Spain, and also by Vestas which I commented on in another thread and noted many caveats to the sutudy.

It was clear from the Spanish and Danish analysis that the LCA figures cannot simply be assumed under Australian (or any other) rollout conditions.


Dave Kimble,

It is puzzling why ZCA proceeds as if 17 hour storage of heat in the solar thermal system is enough. What if the next day is cloudy?

Absolutely. I do not understand how this is not obvious to everyone.

BZE (and many renewable advocates) are now talking loudly and repeatedly about “baseload solar thermal”, and asserting directly, and contrary to the facts, that it is here now, that it exists. This is an idea that has acquired the force of a meme. And its just plain wrong. (On the Climate Spectator thread, I was labelled a ‘baseload solar denier’, which I think is like a holocaust denier, or baby eater, or something.)

Any intelligent person can see your point, and if an intelligent person wants to claim baseload solar power as an existing technology, that sets up a cognitive dissonance that needs to be resolved. Here is how Matthew Wright resolves it for himself:

The argument run relentlessly against renewables by the carbon lobby is that, because ‘the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine at night’, renewable energy can’t provide the constant, or ‘baseload,’ electricity we need to meet demand around the clock.

In fact, technology developed in the 1980’s overcame these limitations. While wind power output is variable, a combination of large-scale concentrated solar thermal plants with molten salt storage (otherwise known as ‘baseload solar’) and wind farms can power this nation 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Baseload solar thermal is the game-changing renewable energy technology, developed by the US Department of Energy between 1980 and 2000. It is now commercially available from .. etc. etc. ..

The text in bold is the kicker. Matthew has chosen to label his CSP plants as ‘baseload solar’. This is entirely distinct from them being baseload. (This is the “use-mention” distinction in philosophy.)

With this construction, Matthew can now go on to talk about baseload solar thermal as a real technology that exists in the real world with a clear conscience, because in the way he has defined his terms, molten salt CSP with 17 hours storage is ‘baseload solar’. But in all subsequent discussion, the quote marks are conveniently elided.

I really think that this is the psychological dynamic at work here, because as I said above, it is obvious to everyone that this is not baseload power, and a rational psyche needs to resolve the contradiction. In the passage above, you are witnessing a lie in the act of construction. And I think that it is unconscionable, because well meaning people, who haven’t engaged with the technology, will be deceived. As they will be on Thursday night in the Sydney Town Hall, in large numbers.



… which you only get back over a lifetime …

Yes, that wording was a bit slack.

Using the ISA team’s spreadsheet , their base scenario shows construction energy costs as 533 GW.h(el) + 14,394 GW.h(th) , and lifetime (35 years) fuel costs as 17,179 GW.h(el) + 23,322 GW.h(th). By taking 10% of the fuel costs for the initial fuel load, plus all the construction costs, all converted to thermal since that is the source of all today’s electricity, I get 2.7 GW.years(th) as the “up front energy cost” before any electricity can be generated.

This assumes no energy is being set aside for creating the next fuel load, nor for ultimate decommissioning and long-term storage of high level wastes (which is a worry in itself, given that Peak Fossils and Global Warming will be putting a serious squeeze on available energy from here on).

Not all of those thermal fuels are suitable to be burned in power stations, but assuming they were for the sake of getting an idea of scale, that is 0.87 GW.years(el) or 10.5 months of operation of the scenario’s 1 GW(el) effective LWR reactor.

On its own that is manageable, but if this technology is to be scaled up to become a substantial part of the energy mix, (nuclear is not suitable for rapid load matching), then many of these reactors will need to be built in quick succession, each incurring an energy debt that is paid in thermal fuels, at a time when a reducing cap on fossil fuel use is occurring.

I am suggesting that before the scale-up is completed, the squeeze on pollution permits will drive their price up and cause real shortages, and the program will never be completed because the number one priority of governments is to “keep the lights on”. Converting all the bulldozers and trucks and blast furnaces to electric only makes the energy barrier worse.

If governments had identified the best technological mix and got going on the program 20 years ago, when fossil fuels were in plentiful supply, we could have completed the program. But we have left it too late, and governments still don’t seem to have a clue about these problems, focusing on financial RoI as if the cost and availability of energy will not change dramatically in the future.


I get 2.7 GW.years(th) as the “up front energy cost” before any electricity can be generated.

That sounds about right, as ISA’s default plant is about the dimensions/material costs of a typical Gen II+ design like Sizewell B (or an EPR), not an AP1000. So, as you correctly note, that’s about 10 months of operation for energy payback. For an AP1000, it would be more like half that or less, i.e. perhaps 3-5 months. This is trivial.

Metal-fuelled fast reactors and LFTRs are ideal for load matching — it happens as an inherent feedback in both designs (in the IFR exemplar, the EBR-II, this natural load-following ability was demonstrated during its years of operation). Dave, the problems you are fretting about don’t need to apply for nuclear — it can be used to completely replace our FF infrastructure with short energy payback times.


Yes, that wording was a bit slack.

It wasn’t just a bit slack, it was completely misleading. I note that the liferime of the plant is assumed to be 35 years whereas the modern accepted figure is sixty years, with a good possibility of even longer plant lifwtimes. This alone should cause us to take a much closer look at some of the other assumptions in the report. Vattenfall seems to be of the opinion that the entire lifetime energy cost of their Fosmark plant were paid off after a few months, certainly less than a year.


The lifetime of the power station isn’t a factor in the energy barrier I was talking about. It is the energy cost up front that is the important thing.

Nobody would happier than me for ISA and Vattenfall and the rest to put their heads together and develop a common methodology and scenarios for energy accounting. It is the lack of reliable figures that has led to the current situation where we argue round and round in circles. This will lead to precious energy being spent on projects that just don’t stack up.


The lifetime of the power station isn’t a factor in the energy barrier I was talking about. It is the energy cost up front that is the important thing.

Don’t worry, it’s minimal. It’s certainly superior to anything else that’s low carbon. There’s no doubt that nuclear power is the way to go for the future. If peak oil were to occur sometime over the next decade, building the nuclear plants would be a worldwide priority, just to get synfuels up and running.


I can’t see any breakdown in Vattenfall’s spreadsheet of the energy used for construction. Perhaps you can explain it.

It also seems that they built their power station using only uranium, peat and wood. I suspect that they have completely ignored the embedded energy in steel and concrete and all the other materials they use. I suspect they are not counting the embedded energy in the acids and alkalis used at the mill for releasing Uranium into solution and neutralising the wastes. I suspect they are not counting energy losses in transmission grids, or the embedded energy in the grid itself, nor its maintenance over 40 years.

Perhaps this is why Vattenfall won the coveted 2009 Climate Greenwash Awards for “its mastery of spin on climate change, portraying itself as a climate champion while lobbying to continue business as usual, using coal, nuclear power, and pseudo-solutions such as agrofuels and carbon capture and storage (CCS).”


It also seems that they built their power station using only uranium, peat and wood. I suspect that they have completely ignored the embedded energy in steel and concrete and all the other materials they use. I suspect they are not counting the embedded energy in the acids and alkalis used at the mill for releasing Uranium into solution and neutralising the wastes. I suspect they are not counting energy losses in transmission grids, or the embedded energy in the grid itself, nor its maintenance over 40 years.

See the following:

Click to access EPD-ringhals2007.pdf

From page 9:

“Construction and decommissioning of the NPP is included. Excavation and blasting data are
NPP-specific and the major construction materials have been followed from cradle to grave.
Forsmark 3 has been selected for detailed assessment of construction of nuclear power plants
since it was the latest unit to be built, and because the buildings are somewhat larger than
those of other units. Forsmark 3 is dimensioned to withstand an assumed Swedish earthquake
without damage. Data from the previous assessment of construction and decommissioning of
Forsmark 3 (BWR) have been applied to Ringhals 1 (BWR). Forsmark 3 is considerably larger
than Ringhals 1 ensuring no under-allocation. Ringhals 2, 3, and 4 (PWR) differ considerably
from BWR in several respects, most notably regarding systems and buildings, and in particular
pressure vessel, steam generators, and containment. Ringhals-specific data have been applied
to these components, whereas Forsmark 3 data have been applied to other parts. Assumed
reinvestments during the technical service life have been included.”


You can change assumptions in the ‘isa.nuclear-calculator.xls’ file. Increasing efficiency from 30 to 35%, increasing enrichment from 3.5% to 5%, increasing burnup from 45 to 70, increasing capacity factor from 85% to 90% will give a greenhouse gas intensity of 46.8g-c02/kwh. In any case, if we’re moving from 1175g-co2/kwh brown coal, the difference between 25g-co2/kwh and 50g-co2/kwh is small and pretty much irrelevant.


I have flicked through that 59 page report, but I didn’t see any numbers on construction and fuel costs in energy units.

What I would like to do is set up the two sets of numbers from ISA and Vattenfall alongside each other so we can see where they differ – as they clearly must do.

Scott’s adjustments to the base scenario raise the ERoEI to 6.0, so we have a long way to go to get to 93.


What’s ‘Economy-wide electricity ratio’? It’s part of the math to calculate EROI and is in cell E11.



I hope it’s not too far off topic, but the Guardian has an interesting piece on electric cars in Spain. Despite the government subsidizing 20% of the purchase price only 16 have been sold. The target for this year is 2000 and 20,000 next year.

It’s not particularly good news, but confirms my opinion that as yet electric cars are too expensive and have too much reduced utility to have any real consumer appeal. If you could buy one for the price of say a Suzuki Swift or such like, maybe things might be quite a bit different.

The article also mentions that of the $3 billion euros paid to subsidize solar power in Spain this year about 15% is thought to have been obtained by fraud.

Spain’s green scheme stalls as only 16 electric cars are sold


They also appear to have deleted a comment I made last night, which certainly appeared on the discussion thread for a time.

There was nothing objectionable in it, but it was rather pointed towards renewable energy journalism, so perhaps the Climate Spectator editors didn’t enjoy the criticism.

The specific point I made, which I feel to be both quite correct and a real problem, is that journalistic coverage of renewable energy is both breathlessly optimistic and overeaching. It shares the same character and faults as a lot of science reporting of the tabloid variety, that is, some poor scientist might be beavering away on perfectly reasonable basic research on, say, vascularization, but the reporter feels obliged to breathlessly report it as a cure for cancer, which simultaneously overstates the work and undermines the actual value of the science.

This seems to be a journalistic imperative, required to sell the story to the reader and perhaps the editor. I could rewrite half the Climate Spectator headlines as ” Still Not Viable”, but that would not do much for the readership.

Renewable energy reporting is like this – every little thing is seized upon and turned into the saviour of the planet, in the same way every bit of biochemical research is turned into a possible cure for cancer, every interesting bit of astrophysics will help physicists unravel the ultimate nature of the universe, and every bit of solid state materials science will lead to faster computers.

And its a real problem, because it poisons the well of information about possible solutions to a catastrophic problem. Bad science journalism makes me angry, but bad renewables journalism has dangerous consequences.

Anyway, thats what I wrote, in roughly those words.


That should be “Renewable Technology or Project X Still Not Viable”. WordPress did not like me enclosing text in angle brackets.


John Morgan,

I reposted your comment at Climate Spectator:

Here is what you said, in case it gets “lost” again.

Reporting on renewable energy
Submitted by John Morgan on Mon, 2010-08-09 22:13.

“There is however a lot of coverage of CSP and investment appears to be expanding. Is it all wrong?”</i? [quote from comment by Joe Dortch]

In my opinion, yes, mostly.

When I read the sorts of articles like this one above, it reminds me a very great deal of a particular sort of science journalism that especially infects medical science.

The sort of article where some scientist is doing some worthwhile basic research on, say, vascularization, but the reporter feels obliged to tell us how it will lead to a cure for cancer. You know what I'm talking about – pick up any issue of New Scientist. The style is marked by breathless excitement and overeaching. This style seems to be a journalistic imperative to sell the story to the reader. That appears to be exactly what is going on with the reporting on alternative energy technologies.

What is lacking is a critical analysis of the technologies or projects. One that gives perspective and context, and is honest about the economics, and the rocky road to development to utility scale. I could rewrite the headline for just about every article on Climate Spectator as " Not Yet Viable”, without changing the text. But that’s not going to do much for the readership.

As to the investment, certainly, none of the projects in the listing you cited are commercial, in the sense that their investment is being paid off by sale of electricity at market rates. So what’s going on? They are either R&D facilities, like the one in the article above, or demonstration projects, mandated by a policy choice made independent of economic viability, or subsidy chasers. Nothing wrong with an engineering company making a business on these contracts, and there is bound to be good money in it for a while. But as a solution to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to zero, then providing the energy for further carbon drawdown, they won’t get us there. They won’t provide power with the reliability necessary to displace fossil fuels from the grid. So what are they for, really?

China has made quite a commitment, as you say. But I think this is mostly due to their belief that this constitutes a market opportunity, not because it will provide useful power. They are serving their energy needs by a big rollout of nuclear power, and a huge rollout of new coal power.



Dave Kimble,
The Miev is only small and its battery is 16 KW.h
We were talking about the Chevy Volt, 16kWh battery but uses 8KWh to fully charge(working range 30-85% of capacity). The Miev is an all electric vehicle, but have greater all-electric range so for most drivers would still only require several kWh top-up at work.

If electric cars were to catch on, the load on the street-level/sub-station grid infrastructure will be severely overloaded unless smart meters are used, and who wants to wait for the meter to say you can charge now and start driving in 8 hours’ time ?
This is probably one of the biggest myths about electric vehicles. IF all vehicles in Australia( 15M) were PHEV’s and ALL requiring a FULL charge EVERY day would need 120GWh , 17% more than the 700GWh daily consumption.
Most of this would be between 10pm and 6am when really all vehicles are parked and demand is 15GW lower than peak day-time present demand.

Changing from incandescent to compact fluoro would save you (60 – 11) = 49 W.h per standard bulb per hour, so you would need to be burning 45 bulbs for 4 hours/day/car for that to work out.
Office lights are usually on for 10h/day and few drivers would need a full re-charge, in fact most wouldn’t need any re-charge( those traveling less than 60km round trip), and some would travel by mass-transit or car-pool but lets say 1KWh/employee/day. That’s 2 incandescent bulbs replaced/ employee ( 50Wx10hx2=1Kwh).

No doubt knowing the real figures wouldn’t actually stop the wasteful Australian car driver from buying an EV, but we are up against limits here and governments have to “keep the lights on”, and the air-con, and the cars. They will end up not retiring the coal-fired power stations because they can’t let people sit in the dark.
I hope I have shown this to be an irrational fear, but when oil runs out, lets hope we have sufficient nuclear and renewable electricity, unless you were thinking we will be driving nuclear powered vehicles.


Thank you Peter, I tried hunting for the comment in caches but couldn’t find it. The fact that you found does indicate that the comment was up on the public comment stream, and then subsequently deleted.

Poor form, Climate Spectator.


Peter Lang,
It is puzzling why ZCA proceeds as if 17 hour storage of heat in the solar thermal system is enough. What if the next day is cloudy. What if four days in a row or two weeks are pretty cloudy? The main problem for the plan is to provide for Victoria, and the nearest solar thermal plant assumed is at Mildura.
I would agree with you that 17h storage( 724GWh) doesnt seem enough, however in the ZCA plan VIC is also supplied by an 8GW grid to WA and near-by Pt Augusta and Broken hill CSP plants. The issue is; when it is cloudy in SE what CSP would be available from QLD and WA and what wind would be available nation-wide. In the lowest solar output in 2008 and 2009 ( June 27, 2009) there was lots of wind in WA. It would seem foolish to not keep the existing 8GW of NG fired power on winter standby just in case, and keep a few coal-fired plans mothballed. Accidents happen as we can see from Vargus Island and BAss-strait incidents and lets be realistic even unplanned nuclear shutdowns occur in other parts of the world.


The comment I posted with your post from last night has been deleted again. I expect by Gile Parkinson.

I’ve just posted this:

Why is the comment by John Morgan being deleted. I can’t see anything offensive about it at all. There is mild criticism of journalits that dont present balanced views and dont’ do proper investigative journalism. But surely, removing valid criticism of biased journalism consistent with the criticism joutrnalists dish out all the time, isn’t it? And journailst ar ethe first to complain about censorship.


Explanation of deletion by editor and my reply here:


Thank you for the explanation. However, I am very surprised that Climate Spectator allowed the highly derogatory comments by Jess Wayward to remain on this “2020 Vision thread”.

I hope you won’t go an delete them now because the history sholuld remain, but I point out that there is bias in what you decide is OK to allow and what is not. Your editorial policy looks strongly biased in favour of renewable energy rather than clean energy.


I’ve just posted this at Climate Spectator. I expect it to be deleted, so am posting it here for the record


Your sentence diisplays unbelieveable bias:

“John and Peter you have both had a very good run in Climate Spectator’s comments section, unmoderated until this point. But there are limits, …”

You’ve allowed the most disgusting abuse to continue unabated on the ‘2020 Vision’ thread, presumably because it aligns with your beliefs, and yet decide to delete a perfecty reasonable post by a highly intelligent and highly credentialled person, John Morgan.

Climate Spectator is displaying a high level of pro renewable energy bias. This is not about addressing climate change. It is about propogating a belief.


“electricity ratio” is (I think) calculated by totaling for all thermal-to-electricity generating technologies, the efficiency of thermal to electricity multiplied by the proportion of the electrical energy mix of that technology.

It can then be used to convert between thermal and electrical energy units: 0.324 KW.h(el) = 1 KW.h(th)
It is sometimes used as the inverse, as in ISA:
1/0.324 = 3.10

It changes as the energy mix changes and as the efficiencies change.


Natural gas conversions

The ZCA report states:

page 71

Heating loads currently delivered by natural gas and other fossil fuels can be delivered by renewable electricity, while solar thermal co-generation can provide both electricity and direct heat, saving on costs significantly.”

For each gas application there is an available electrical substitute. Electrical heating methods have advantages over other forms of chemical combustion in regards to: precise control over the temperature, rapid provision of heat energy, and ability to achieve temperatures not achievable through combustion.

The ZCA report aims to convert all fuels to electric, however it neglects to discuss the implications for peak electrical demand and other issues including the significant cost advantage of gas over electricity in Victoria, and the costs in proposed conversions. Taking the case of Victoria due to its widespread availability of reticulated natural gas and significant winter heating demand, the hourly peak demand is 82 TJ/hour, which equates to 23 GW continuous over one hour. Peak demand occurs during the cooler months of June through September, and Melbourne makes up typically 70% of this demand.

Click to access 0400-0003.pdf

Click to access 0400-0012.pdf

The instantaneous demand will be higher than the hourly peak, but the AEMO report does not provide finer resolution because natural gas pipelines act as a short-term buffer. For comparison the Victorian peak summer electricity demand is 10.6 GW and winter peak demand is 8 GW, suggesting that there is not a significant headroom to enlarge winter electrical demand.

As discussed in an earlier post (, the portion of the demand that is converted to electric heat pump for space and water heating will incur an energy saving of typically 60 to 70% due to the higher COP of heat pumps versus gas furnaces. Around 7% of annual consumption is due to gas power generation, with 4% of peak demand attributed to gas power generation. Industrial processes that are converted to electric would be expected to derive an estimated 20% energy reduction due to the higher end-use efficiency of resistance and induction heating versus gas combustion. Industrial processes are not generally suitable for conversion to heat pumps due to the higher temperatures required, although in some limited cases, high-temperature heat pumps may be suitable, in for example, some boiler applications.

Depending on specific user tariffs, consumers will typically pay between 3 and 4 times more per unit of energy for electricity compared to gas. In applications, such as heat pumps, which derive a significantly higher end-use efficiency, the additional costs are largely offset, and may even work out slightly more cost effective if the highest efficiency heat pumps are utilized. On the other hand, conversions with lower efficiency gains, such as a switch to resistance heating will incur both energy, and peak usage cost increases. The report makes the valid point that co-generation offers opportunities for reduced energy use, but strangely, seems to exclude its use with natural gas, which is where its obvious strength lies, favouring its use with solar applications.

Many small enterprises that currently use natural gas combustion processes may also incur the installation cost of a local transformer to supply the additional load. The report does not address a myriad of other issues such as the widespread use of natural gas boilers in large HVAC applications, and the non-trivial task of replacing these in high-rise buildings.

The ZCA report appears to have addressed aggregate, average, energy consumption with a number of assumed efficiency savings, without consideration of peak loads and the practical consequences of shifting natural gas loads to electric. The mind can only boggle at the over-build required for solar-based generation infrastructure trying to supply a dramatically higher demand in winter, and it is left to others to consider doing the calculation.

Businesses, both small, and large, are unlikely to look favourably on needing to retrofit or change-over natural gas processes with electric, incur potential additional costs for the installation of a local transformer, and pay 3 to 4 times more for energy costs, assuming that the network is capable of reliably supplying the power. The ZCA report seems at odds with mainstream opinion regarding Australia’s substantial indigenous natural gas resource, which is seen as a significant asset in the context of an (eventual) carbon price. As discussed in an earlier post, it may be sensible to implement policies encouraging the conversion from natural gas to electric given the availability of low emission generation in the long term, however it is clear that current natural gas loads, and dramatically higher costs, preclude a sensible discussion about conversion in the short to medium term.


Update. I’ve just attempted to post the revision of my original deleted comment, unsuccessfully. Sophie Vorath has closed the comments thread for that article with a short, petulant “thanks for your input” response.


We’ve clearly put the Climate Spectator editors on the defensive. Its certainly not all our fault (very little in my opinion given the provocation we’ve been subjected to), but it is unfortunate. Climate Spectator is a site which is in a position do disseminate some real analysis, publish cogent opinion pieces and ask some hard questions of the renewable technologies they are covering.

Right now, they should be positively encouraged to do two things:

(i) apply a little more critical analysis in their coverage of renewable technologies, which almost no mainstream coverage is doing

(ii) cover nuclear technology in an impartial way, on an equal footing with renewables

The former would put renewable energy in a proper context, the latter would help to normalize discussion of nuclear power as a greenhouse response.

There’s a limit to what can be expected on nuclear coverage for an Australian energy news website. But CS has an opportunity to provide the kind of analysis and coverage we would like to see. They won’t do this from a position of defensiveness, so I think its important to offer commentary in a tone that does not force them to that posture. The facts and numbers are on our side, there’s not really much we need to do other than encourage quality journalism to bring them out.


@John Morgan, agreed. Giles Parkinson has just posted a good, fair (i.e. not cheerleading) story on a critical juncture for geothermal, so I’ve given them kudos for that.


The latest topic at ClimateSpectator is geothermal.

My comment:

Geothermal, chasing another pipe dream?- edit
Submitted by Peter Lang on Wed, 2010-08-11 13:23.
Geotherma hot dry rock (HDR) and hot fractured rock (HFR) is quite different to geothermal in volcanic areas. Australia does not have volcanic sites like Iceland, Italy, USA, New Zealand and many Pacific rim countries. So we are trying to make HDR and HFR work.

No country has succeeded with HDR or HFR yet after nearly 40 years of research, development and demonstration. The problem is not creating cracks in the rock. The problem is making fractures with equal appeture over the whole fracture surface and maintaining that for 30 years. It is not possible. The water finds the easiest path between the injection and production boreholes, instead of flowing over all the fracture surfaces. So the water runs in ‘channels’. So it cannot extract heat from the whole fracture surface. So altough there is plenty of heat in the rocks, it is diffuse, like sun light and cannot be easily extracted. There is an analogy with solar energy. The sun has plenty of energy, it is the collection of it that is the problem. The same is true with HDR and HFR geothermal.

Click to access art4.pdf


I suggest HDR geothermal may have the same problem as in situ coal gasification – no real control over the underground plumbing. George Monbiot fears if I recall that UCG will unlock 70X as much coal otherwise uneconomic to mine. If the woes of Cougar Energy in Qld are any guide that fear is unfounded

In SA both Federal Energy Minister Ferguson and Premier Rann confidently predicted around 2007 that HDR granite geothermal would soon provide baseload power. Now ‘wet’ sedimentary geothermal near Penola in the State’s south east is all the go. Those gents should note that SA probably has more uranium than Kazakhstan which is currently making a motza.


I found an interesting assumption in ZCA2020, Appendix 9, p170. BZE have used a discount rate of 1.4%, the same as in the Stern Review. This is ludicrous. No one investing in electricity generation plant would ever consider using such a low discount rate. If the plant is totally state owned, then 5% to 10% is normally used. If private sector, the discount rates is higher still.

It is interesting that this is another example of how far they had to go to get the figures they .wanted.


Graham Palmer,

Your posts are excellent. I hope you can put them together as a series of short essays an put them in an article on BNC so we can always find them when we need to. They get lost in comments thread, especially when the thread runs to 558 comments so far as this one has.


Thanks for your comments Peter. Happy to have the posts put in a separate thread and make further contributions.


Carlo Ombello, the writer responsible for the following article (subject to the censorship issue discussed upthread),

has had a bit to say for himself lately, both in the form of his free shot in the comments thread of his Climate Spectator article, and in a couple of comments in discussion threads around the pro-nuke blogosphere, here,

and here:


Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s