‘Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan’ – Critique

‘Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan’ – Critique

Download the printable PDF here

[An addendum on wind farm and solar construction rates, by Dave Burraston]


Edit: Here are some media-suitable ‘sound bytes’ from the critique, prepared by Martin. Obviously, please read the whole critique below to understand the context:

  • They assume we will be using less than half the energy by 2020 than we do today without any damage to the economy. This flies in the face of 200 years of history.
  • They have seriously underestimated the cost and timescale required to implement the plan.
  • For $8 a week extra on your electricity bill, you will give up all domestic plane travel, all your bus trips and you must all take half your journeys by electrified trains.
  • They even suggest that all you two car families cut back to just one electric car.
  • You better stock up on candles because you can certainly expect more blackouts and brownouts.
  • Addressing these drawbacks could add over $50 a week to your power bill not the $8 promised by BZE. That’s over $2,600 per year for the average household.

By Martin Nicholson and Peter Lang, August 2010

1. Summary

This document provides a critique of the ‘Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan’ [1] (referred to as the Plan in this document) prepared by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). We looked at the total electricity demand required, the total electricity generating capacity needed to meet that demand and the total capital cost of installing that generating capacity. We did not review the suitability of the technologies proposed.  We briefly considered the timeline for installing the capacity by 2020 but have not critiqued this part of the Plan in detail.

In reviewing the total energy demand, we referred to the assumptions made in the Plan and compared them to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) report on Australian energy projections to 2029-30 [2]. The key Plan assumptions we questioned were the use of 2008 energy data as the benchmark for 2020, the transfer of close to half the current road transport to electrified rail and transfer of all domestic air travel and shipping to rail which could have a devastating impact on the economy. In the Plan, total energy demand was reduced by 63% below ABARE’s assessment. We recalculated the energy demand for 2020 without these particular assumptions. Our recalculation increased electricity demand by 38% above the demand proposed in the Plan.

We next turned our minds to the amount of generator capacity needed to meet our recalculated electricity demand. We assumed that the existing electricity network customers would require the same level of network reliability as now. At best the solar thermal plants would have the same reliability and availability of the existing coal fleet so the network operators would at least require a similar proportion of reserve margin capacity as in the existing networks. We kept the same proportion of wind energy as in the Plan (40%) and recalculated the total capacity needed to maintain the reserve margin. The total installed capacity needed increased by 65% above the proposed capacity in the Plan.

The Plan misleadingly states that it relies only on existing, proven, commercially available and costed technologies. The proposed products to be used in the Plan fail these tests. So to assess the total capital cost of installing the generating capacity needed, we reviewed some current costs for both wind farms and solar thermal plants. We also reviewed ABARE’s expectation on future cost reductions. We considered that current costs were the most likely to apply to early installed plants and  that ABARE’s future cost reductions were more likely to apply than the reductions used in the Plan. Applying these costs to the increased installed capacity increased the total capital cost almost 5 fold and increases the wholesale cost of electricity by at least five times and probably 10 times. This will have a significant impact on consumer electricity prices.

We consider the Plan’s Implementation Timeline as unrealistic.  We doubt any solar thermal plants, of the size and availability proposed in the plan, will be on line before 2020.  We expect only demonstration plants will be built until there is confidence that they can become economically viable. Also, it is common for such long term projections to have high failure rates.

2. 2020 Electricity Demand

BZE make a number of assumptions in assessing the electricity demand used to calculate the generating capacity needed by 2020. In summary these are:

  1. 2008 is used as the benchmark year for the analysis. BZE defend this by saying “ZCA2020 intends to decouple energy use from GDP growth. Energy use per capita is used as a reference, taking into account medium-range population growth.”.
  2. Various industrial energy demands in 2020 are reduced including gas used in the export of LNG, energy used in coal mining, parasitic electricity losses, off-grid electricity and coal for smelting.
  3. Nearly all transport is electrified and a substantial proportion of the travel kms are moved from road to electrified rail including 50% of urban passenger and truck kms and all bus kms. All domestic air and shipping is also moved to electric rail.
  4. All fossil fuels energy, both domestic and industrial, is replaced with electricity.
  5. Demand is reduced through energy efficiency and the use of onsite solar energy.

The net effect of these assumptions is to reduce the 2020 total energy by 58% below the 2008 benchmark and 63% below the ABARE estimate for 2020. The total electricity required in 2020 to service demand and achieve these reductions is 325 TWh. This is the equivalent of an average generating capacity of 37 GW over the year.

All of these assumptions are challenging and some are probably unrealistic or politically unacceptable. To address these concerns, we have adjusted the assumptions and recalculated the energy estimates shown in Table A1.3 of the Plan.

The revised assumptions are as follows:

  1. Comparing Australia’s energy use per capita with Northern Europe ignores the significant differences in population density and climate between the two regions. To address this, we have used ABARE’s forecast for 2020 as the benchmark year for our analysis. The ABARE forecast assumes energy efficiency improvement of 0.5 per cent a year in non energy-intensive end use sectors and 0.2 per cent a year in energy intensive industries.
  2. The export of LNG will continue. Much of the world may not wish to, or be able to, emulate this plan and the demand for gas as an energy source will continue for several decades. The other demand reductions shown in BZE assumption 2 above are included.
  3. A substantial modal shift in transport to rail is unlikely to be politically acceptable, particularly domestic aviation and bus travel. Domestic aviation and shipping will continue to use fossil fuels or bio-equivalents. In our analysis, nearly all road transport is electrified but without a reduction in distance travelled. Though this transport electrification is unlikely to be achieved by 2020, it is a realistic long term goal so has been included in the revised calculations. ABARE energy data are for final energy consumption so a tank/battery to wheel efficiency comparison should be made. This is considered to be a 3:1 energy reduction [3] not 5:1 as identified in the Plan.
  4. All fossil fuels energy is replaced with electricity as per the Plan.
  5. Demand is reduced through energy efficiency and the use of onsite solar energy as per the Plan but discounted by the energy efficiency already included in the ABARE data identified in 1 above.

These assumptions and recalculations are based on information provided in Appendix 1 of the Plan. Each SET column shown in Table 1 below are defined in Appendix 1. Recalculations are based on data provided in Appendix 1. ABARE provided data for 2008 and 2030 only so 2020 is our estimate based on the ABARE figures.

The net effect of these revised assumptions is shown in Table 1 which is a rework of Table A1.3 in Appendix 1 of the Plan. The total electricity required in 2020 to service the revised demand and achieve the energy reductions is 449 TWh or 38% more than the ZCA2020 Plan estimate of 325 TWh.

3. Total Capacity Needed

A number of assumptions have been made by BZE in assessing the generating capacity needed to supply the electricity demand in 2020. These can be summaries as follows:

  1. The Plan relies on 50 GW of wind and 42.5 GW of concentrating solar thermal (CST) alone to meet 98% of the projected electricity demand of 325 TWh/yr. In addition, the combination of hydro and biomass generation as backup at the CST sites is expected to meet the remaining 2% of total demand, covering the few occasions where periods of low wind and extended low sun coincide.
  2. In the Plan system design the extra generating capacity needed to meet peak demand is reduced relative to current requirements. The electrification of heating, along with an active load management system, is assumed to defer heating and cooling load to smooth out peaks in demand resulting in a significant reduction in the overall installed capacity required to meet peak demand.
  3. In the Plan, negawatts are achieved through energy efficiency programs which lower both overall energy demand and peak electricity demand as well as by time-shifting loads using active load management. Negawatts can be conceptually understood as real decreases in necessary installed generating capacity, due to real reductions in overall peak electricity demand.
  4. The current annual energy demand in the Plan is considered to be 213 TWh which can be converted to an average power figure of 24 GW. BZE assumes that the current installed capacity to meet maximum demand is 45 GW. The difference (21 GW) is then considered power for meeting the demand for intermediate and peak loads only. The peak load in 2020 is assumed to be equal to the average of 37 GW plus the 21 GW for intermediate and peak loads. This is then reduced by a 3 GW allowance for ‘Negawatt’ to give an overall maximum demand of 55 GW.
  5. In the worst case scenario modelled in the Plan of low wind and low sun, there is a minimum of 55 GW of reliable capacity. This is based on a projected 15%, or 7.5 GW, of wind power always being available and the 42.5 GW of solar thermal turbine capacity also always being available with up to 15 GW of this turbine capacity backed up by biomass heaters. The 5 GW of existing hydro capacity is also always available.

The key issues in these assumptions are that the maximum (peak) demand is 55GW and that the proposed installed capacity can deliver a minimum of 55GW at any time. We will deal with each of these issues separately.

3.1. Recalculation of peak demand

The ZCA2020 Plan proposes a single National Grid comprising the existing NEM, SWIS and NWIS grids. The current installed capacity and loads in the three regions are shown in Table 2. An accurate assessment of peak demand – not average demand – is critical for assessing the total installed capacity needed.

Reliability in each network is maintained by additional available capacity over and above the expected peak demand. This is to cover for planned or unexpected loss of generating capacity either through planned maintenance or unplanned breakdown. This additional capacity is often referred to as the ‘reserve margin’.

The current reserve margin in each network is approximately 33% higher than the actual peak load. Note also that the actual total installed capacity is 53 GW and average power is 26 GW across the three networks. These are both higher than suggested by BZE in assumption 4 above.

The anticipated electricity demand in 2020 from Table 1 is 449 TWh. Assuming no change in current peak demand we can expect the pro rata peak in 2020 would be 78.7 GW (39.7 x 449/227). If we apply the 3 GW negawatt reduction discussed in assumption 4, peak demand will become 75.7 GW as shown in Table 3.

3.2. Recalculation of required capacity to reliably meet demand

The Plan insists that the combination of wind power and solar thermal with storage can deliver continuous supply (baseload). The only way to accurately assess this and the capacity required to meed the performance demands on the network is to do a full loss of load probability (LOLP) analysis. This does not appear to have been done in the ZCA2020 Plan, or at least it was not discussed as such in the report.

It is also beyond the scope of this critique to perform an LOLP analysis. A reasonable proxy is to apply the reserve margin requirements currently in the network. To maintain reliability, all three network regions have a reserve margin of 33% above the anticipated peak demand.

The size of the reserve margin is, among other things, related to the reliability of the generators in the network. In the current networks the predominant generators are conventional fossil fuel plants supplying over 90% of the energy.

In the Plan, the predominant plants are solar thermal with biomass backup supplying just under 60% of the energy. The Plan states that “The solar thermal power towers specified in the Plan will be able to operate at 70-75% annual capacity factor, similar to conventional fossil fuel plants.” The remainder of the energy mostly comes from wind powered generators. It would therefore seem likely that the network operators would continue, at a minimum, to require a 33% reserve margin to maintain the current levels of network reliability. The reserve margin may well be higher given the proportion of wind power and the use of relatively new solar thermal/biomass hybrid plants.

Table 3 shows the anticipated peak demand and total capacity needed to meet the 2020 demand calculated in section 2.

3.3. Estimate of the required wind and solar capacity

As close as possible we have kept the percentage of energy coming from wind and solar the same as in the Plan. This means that roughly 40% of the energy will come from wind and 60% will come from solar thermal plants with sufficient biomass capacity and sufficient fuel supply system to back-up for when there is insufficient energy in storage.

40% of the 449 TWh demand required by 2020 shown in section 2 will require 68 GW of wind. This is 36% higher than the 50 GW of wind used in the Plan.

The Plan assumed that 15% of wind power would always be available (assumption 5 above). This is the capacity credit allocated when assessing network reliability. Dispatchable generators like fossil fuel plants typically have a capacity credit of 99%. [4]

For the purpose of this estimate, we have assumed that the solar plants will have sufficient biomass capacity and reliability to be given a capacity credit of 99%. This may require a higher availability of biomass at the solar sites than has been included in the Plan. Without an LOLP we are not able to make that assessment.

Table 4 shows the amount of wind and solar needed to satisfy the network requirement for a total capacity of 101 GW calculated in 3.2 and shown in Table 3. The solar supply and biomass backup will need to be more than doubled from the present 42.5 GW to 87 GW.

4. Capital Costs

The Plan makes an estimate of the capital costs for the generators and the transmission lines. The Plan states that it “relies only on existing, proven, commercially available and costed technologies”. This is misleading. Although it is true that wind and solar thermal generators have been used commercially for a number of years, the particular products and product size suggested in the Plan are not yet available and caution is needed when estimating future costs for these products. Further, the Plan also assumes that baseload solar thermal is available today when the International Energy Agency does not expecting competitive baseload CSP before 2025. [5]

In this analysis we have compared the costs proposed in the Plan with known costs for solar and wind plants, together with ABARE’s suggested likely cost reductions over time.

4.1. Wind costs

According to ABARE [6, 7], current costs for wind farms in Australia are around $2.9 million/MW. In 2009 the costs were $2.3 million/MW – see Table 5.

The following assumptions have been made by BZE in estimating the cost of wind farms:

  1. The Plan involves a large scale roll out of wind turbines, that will require a ramp up in production rate, which will help to reduce wind farm capital costs and bring Australian costs into line with the world (European) markets.
  2. The 2010 forecast capital cost of onshore wind is approximately €1,200/kW (2006 prices) or $2,200/kW (current prices). By 2015 the European capital cost of onshore wind is estimated to be around €900/kW (2006 prices) (or $1,650 in current prices).
  3. It is expected that Australian wind turbine costs in 2011 will reduce to the current European costs of $2.2 million/MW. For the first 5 years of the Plan, the capital costs of wind turbines are expected to transition from the current European costs to the forecast 2015 European amount — $1.65 million/MW.
  4. In the final five years the capital costs are expected to drop to approximately $1.25 million/MW in Australia.

Wind turbines are not new technology and this would not normally suggest such significant falls in future costs. The 7.5 MW Enercon E126 turbine proposed is significantly larger than any currently installed on-shore commercial turbine and is still being developed. No firm costs for such a turbine are yet available. It seems very optimistic to suggest that the cost of these turbines will almost halve over the next decade. That projection is not supported by ABARE, which forecasts2 a reduction in the cost of wind power of 21% from 2015 to 2030. This is a simple average reduction of 1.5% per year.

Given the current cost of turbines in Australia ($2.9 million/MW) and accepting some economy of scale both in turbine size and volume purchased it might seem more prudent to assume the cost will fall from the current cost of $2.9 million/MW to $2.5 million/MW over the decade in line with ABARE’s forecast.

4.2. Solar costs

The solar plant proposed by the ZCA2020 Plan is a solar thermal tower with 17 hours molten salt energy storage. The proposed 220 MW plant is 13 times larger than any existing solar tower system. As with the wind proposal, no firm costs for such a large sized plant are yet available.

We have prepared an analysis of two solar thermal tower projects of varying sizes and using molten salt with varying energy storage sizes. These are plants where the capital cost could be identified and shown in Table 6. All costs are converted to 2010 A$.

Part of the variation in cost per MW is related to the hours of storage. The size of the solar field has to be increased to support more hours of storage as does the size of the storage tanks. According to the Plan (p140), 80% of the cost of a solar tower system using molten salt storage comes from the solar field and the storage system.  Scaling up the storage will increase the cost per MW. These costs have been adjusted in Table 6 to 17 hours storage as proposed in the Plan.

The Plan (p61) has applied the following pricing which falls as more solar plants are installed:

  1. The first 1,000 MW is priced at a similar price to SolarReserve’s Tonopah project at $10.5 million/MW.
  2. The next 1,600 MW is priced slightly cheaper at $9.0 million/MW.
  3. The next 2,400 MW is priced at Sargent & Lundy’ conservative mid-term estimate for the Solar 100 module which is $6.5 million/MW.
  4. The next 3,700 MW is priced at Sargent & Lundy Solar 200 module price of $5.3 million/MW.
  5. The remaining 33,800 MW is priced at $115 billion or $3.4 million/MW.

The Tonopah project is treated as a First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) plant. Unfortunately the Tonopah plant has only 10 hours of storage [8] not 17 hours as required by the Plan. Grossing up the $10.5 million/MW from 10 hours to 17 hours based on the additional materials needed makes the cost $16.4 million/MW. For comparison, the Gemasolar plant shown in Table 6 has a scaled up cost of $25.7 million/MW.

ABARE2 forecasts a reduction in the cost of solar thermal with storage of 34% from 2015 to 2030. This is a simple average reduction of 2% per year. It might seem more prudent to assume the price will fall in line with ABARE’s assessment which will lower the price from $16.4 million/MW to $13.7 million/MW over the decade.

4.3. Assessment of generator capital costs based on revised capacity

In 3.3 we estimated the needed capacity to meet reliability standards in the electricity networks. From Table 4 the wind capacity needed was 68 GW and solar thermal plant capacity was 87 GW.

In this section we take the construction timelines suggested in the Plan (p57, p67) and gross them up to meet the capacity figures above. We then apply the prices calculated in 4.1 and 4.2 to calculate the revised total capital cost.

Table 7 and Table 8 apply a construction schedule as close as possible to the schedules provided in Table 3.7 and Table 3.14 of the Plan. The price each year is assumed to fall uniformly over the 10 years. We recognise this is not what would happen in practice but the end result would not vary greatly.

The Plan’s projected capital cost of wind = $72 billion.

The Plan’s projected capital cost of CST = $175 billion.

Because the required capacity for wind is 36% higher in this analysis than in the Plan and the capacity for solar is 105% higher, there is significant increase in capital cost over the Plan. This is particularly so for the solar component as the average cost per MW over the 10 years has increased from the BZE assessment of $4.1 million to $14.6 million. This a 3.6 times increase in average capital cost.

4.4. Assessment of the revised total investment cost

As the total installed capacity has increased then both the transmission system and biomass supply will also need to be increased. For the purpose of this assessment, the biomass is assumed to increase pro rata with the increase in solar thermal capacity. The transmission is assumed to increase pro rata with the total installed capacity. The actual increases could only be properly assessed with a full LOLP analysis.

The Plan assumes that the biomass fuel will be transported from the biomass pelletising plants, which are located in the wheat growing areas, to the solar thermal power plants by electrified railway lines.  It seems the Plan does not include the cost of these.  We have made an allowance of $54 billion for the capital cost of the electrified rail system for the biomass fuel handling logistics.  This assumes 300km average rail line distance per solar power site, for 12 sites at $15 million/km of electrified rail line.  This is included in our revised total investment cost shown in Table 9.

4.5. Uncertainty in the capital cost estimates

Capital costs for this Plan are highly uncertain.  None of the proposed generator types has ever been built.  Previous estimates for wind power and solar power have often proved to be gross underestimates. Our estimates include projections of cost reductions due to learning rates as does the Plan.  However, there is evidence that real costs have been increasing for decades so the learning rate reductions have to be considered uncertain.

The Plan calls for electrified rail lines to run from the pelleting plants in the wheat growing areas to the solar power stations but the capital cost for lines was not included.  We have included an estimate for this as discussed in 4.4.

There is uncertainty on the downside due to potential technological break-throughs which might make the learning curve rates forecast by various sources: Sargent and Lundy, NEEDS, DOE, IEA and ABARE achievable.  BZE projects a cost reduction of some 50% for solar and wind over the decade.  We will consider this to be the downside uncertainty.

There are several uncertainties on the upside:

  1. 1. A qualified estimator will state that the uncertainty on the upper end is as high as 100% for a conceptual estimate involving a particular design using mature technology for a particular site. The Plan and our estimates are for a concept that does not involve mature technology, without specific site surveys and without a system design for a totally redesigned electricity system.
  2. Previous estimates for solar thermal plants over the past two decades have often underestimated the cost of the actual plants.  For example, the estimated cost of Solar Tres / Gemasolar increased by 260% between 2005 and 2009 (when construction began).
  3. 3. A loss of load probability (LOLP) study would be essential to accurately estimate the generating capacity and transmission network requirements before this Plan was executed.
  4. The wind power contribution to reliability is based on an assumed firm capacity of 15%.  Many consider this highly optimistic.  Should the LOLP study suggest a significantly lower firm wind capacity, then much more solar thermal and biomass capacity would be required, increasing the total capital cost.
  5. Some consider that almost none of our hydro resource could be used in the way assumed in the Plan to back up for low sun and low wind periods.  If this proved to be the case then more solar and biomass capacity would be required.
  6. 6. All existing CST pilot plants have been built in areas that are relatively close to the necessary infrastructure such as road, water, gas mains and a work force.  This will not be the case for most of the 12 sites proposed for Australia.

In Table 9 , we have used a downside uncertainty of 50% and an upside uncertainty of 260% for solar plants and 200% for the other components.

5. Electricity Costs

The wholesale electricity cost, the price paid to the generator, makes up between 30% to 50% of retail electricity prices so any significant increase in the wholesale cost will impact consumer electricity prices. The Plan claims that wholesale prices will rise from the present $55/MWh to $120/MWh after  2020 (p122).

Table 10 shows estimates for the cost of electricity from solar thermal plants and wind farms for different years. It is clear that the Plan estimate for solar is significantly less than the other estimates. This would suggest a significantly lower capital cost for solar in the Plan than anticipated by these other assessments. The Plan does not offer an electricity cost for wind farms.

Based on the ABARE electricity cost estimates shown in Table 10. for solar thermal and wind, if the ratio of energy generated is 60% solar and 40% wind then the wholesale electricity price would need to be, at a minimum, $270/MWh by 2020 to cover the cost of generation.

However this is not a total system cost.  The wholesale cost of electricity would be about $500/MWh based on the capital cost of $1,709 billion, the supply of 443 TWh/a, a lifetime of 30 years and real interest rate of 10% pa.

If the capital cost is at the low end of the range, $885 billion, the electricity cost would be about $270/MWh.  If the capital cost is at the high end of the range, the electricity cost would be about $1200/MWh.

The $500/MWh cost is over 4 times the cost proposed in the Plan and nearly 10 times the current cost of electricity.  The low end of the estimate, $270/MWh, is more than twice the estimate proposed by the Plan and 5 times the current cost of electricity.  The high end of the range is over 10 times the cost proposed in the Plan and over 20 times the current cost of electricity.

6. Implementation Timeline

The Plan is not economically viable; therefore it will not be built to the timeline envisaged in the plan. As an example of how unrealistic the timeline is, the Plan assumes 1000 MW of CST will be under construction in 2011.   This is clearly impossible.  The first plant with 100MW peak capacity and just 10 hours of storage won’t be on-line in the USA until 2013 at the earliest.  It could be years before Australia can begin building plants with 17 hours of storage.

Trying to schedule the proposed build is making a category error. It is unlikely that any project manager would touch it. The project is simply not scoped.

We expect only demonstration plants will be built until there is confidence that they can become economically viable.  We doubt any solar thermal plants, of the size and availability proposed in the plan, will be on line before 2020. .

7. Conclusions

We have reviewed the “Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan” by Beyond Zero Emissions.  We have evaluated and revised the assumptions and cost estimates. We conclude:

  • The ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan has significantly underestimated the cost and timescale required to implement such a plan.
  • Our revised cost estimate is nearly five times higher than the estimate in the Plan: $1,709 billion compared to $370 billion.  The cost estimates are highly uncertain with a range of $855 billion to $4,191 billion for our estimate.
  • The wholesale electricity costs would increase nearly 10 times above current costs to $500/MWh, not the $120/MWh claimed in the Plan.
  • The total electricity demand in 2020 is expected to be 44% higher than proposed: 449 TWh compared to the 325 TWh presented in the Plan.
  • The Plan has inadequate reserve capacity margin to ensure network reliability remains at current levels. The total installed capacity needs to be increased by 65% above the proposed capacity in the Plan to 160 GW compared to the 97 GW used in the Plan.
  • The Plan’s implementation timeline is unrealistic.  We doubt any solar thermal plants, of the size and availability proposed in the plan, will be on line before 2020.  We expect only demonstration plants will be built until there is confidence that they can be economically viable.
  • The Plan relies on many unsupported assumptions, which we believe are invalid; two of the most important are:
    1. A quote in the Executive Summary “The Plan relies only on existing, proven, commercially available and costed technologies.”
    2. Solar thermal power stations with the performance characteristics and availability of baseload power stations exist now or will in the near future.

8. References

[1] Australian Sustainable Energy – Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan

[2] ABARE Australian energy projections to 2029-30

[3] European Commission – Mobility and Transport

[4] Doherty et al – Establishing the Role That Wind Generation May Have in Future Generation Portfolios IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER SYSTEMS, VOL. 21, NO. 3, AUGUST 2006

[5] IEA – Technology Roadmap Concentrating Solar Power

[6] ABARE’s list of major electricity generation projects – April 2009

[7] ABARE’s list of major electricity generation projects – April 2010


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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.

363 replies on “‘Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan’ – Critique”

I think I may have solved the mystery with regard to the Andasol 1 project.

This is the mystery as to why they quote only 7.5 hours of storage when their capacity is 20 hours worth (ie the plant has a 50MW turbine and the molten salt capacity is 1010MWh).

During the day, some of the heat arriving at the tower generates (steam?) pressure to run the turbine. Some of the heat warms the molten salt from the “cold” tank. and delivers it to the “hot” tank.

Any excess heat is then pumped into the air using fans.

If you gathered solar power for 8 hours, and you had 16 hours of storage, you would need >= 3 times as much heat to arrive at the tower, over the 8 hours, as you needed for the turbine.

Now on some days you could fill your reservoir. There would also be days when you couldn’t.

The result is that on average, you could not always draw your peak capacity when the sun didn’t shine, because, whilst you can under-fill your storage, you can never over-fill it.

This ratio of peak storage to average storage would be a function of the time of the year, the number of cloudy/rainy days, and the ratio of the heat arriving at the tower relative to the heat required by the turbine.

Is this making sense?

The bottom line though is you could never quote your peak molten salt storage capacity as being your average storage capacity.

I think that the ZCA2020 report might be doing just that!

David leComte


I notice that Climate Spectator have removed comments from the ZCA2020 article

What a bunch of dishonest jerks. Did anyone here chance to archive the comments?

Perhaps the criticisms were being repeated to them by potential investors in various renewables schemes. I suspect our activism has caused them more grief than they’re ever going to let on. Otherwise they wouldn’t have printed that article attacking the critiques of wind power.


I’ve put up the following comment on the same thread my previous comment was deleted from at 21:11.

It’s not going to work, Giles. Gone are the days when media was a one-way street. You can try to keep a lid on things by censoring comments or deleting entire comment threads, but you’re probably beginning to realise that in this most critical of issues, providing energy for the future and caring for the environment we depend on, you will not be given a free ride. More people are becoming actively involved in the process, and much of the newly interested demographic is far more sophisticated in these matters than the audience you first thought you were playing to, and to a
large degree, likely more so than you yourself. You are under the microscope here. This is the way it will be from now on. Keep up this habit of censorship and you will lose the propaganda war all that much more swiftly, once people recognise what you’re up to with it.

I realise that you are likely to delete this comment on sight, so I’m going to keep a copy for myself and probably use it in the future on my own blog when I get around to the subject of media coverage of energy issues.

If I were a gambling man, I might be tempted to take bets on how long it will remain there.



I wonder whether Climate Spectator were asked to remove the comments by the ZCA authors, who participated in the forum, wanting to avoid embarassing critiques of the plan? The plan is also potentially embarassing for Melbourne Uni and the politicians who endorsed it once it is put under the microscope. Consider, for example, the proposal to essentially ban all petrol and diesel cars and force people to replace them with 3 makes of electric cars.


Sophie Vorath, one of the ClSp editors, has commented claiming that the thread was not deleted, just made invisible because there was too much bickering and personal attacking going on there, and if they ever get enough time or staff to go through the thread and delete the comments they deem inappropriate, they might just uninvisible it.

That’s their story, anyway.



I am a newbie to these sorts of sites.

Is the Climate Spectator site important? Does it matter that they have tried to impose censorship on this issue?

Could the fact that I have found that the ZCA proposal is technically (and totally) flawed be of concern to them?

It does seem a coincidence that the critique has been running for some time, but they decide to shut it down now.

david lecomte



Yes, Climate Spectator is relatively important in the Australian context because it has a large and rapidly growing readership, fed in part through a relationship with Crikey.

Oddly, they are trying to out-do Merdoch through ignoring or deleting opinion which is contrary to the site owner(s). Just why any sentient beast would adopt the same techniques as Lkimited News is beyond me.

They have just about lost me as a reader as a result.


The Sept edition of Engineers Australia contains a positive article on the ZCA 2020 Plan.

Below is a copy of my letter about the ZCA 2020 Plan to the editor which I sent off today.

Dear Editor

Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan (ZCA 2020)

The ZCA2020 energy plan (featured in the September edition of Engineers Australia) is a transition plan to a non carbon energy economy that appears to be based more on a political, ideological belief than engineering technical expertise. A comprehensive engineering critique of this plan can be found at

Just applying a simple reality test to ZCA2020, the following question could be asked “has any other country tried to do this and were they successful?”

Over the past 20 years, Denmark, Germany and Spain, really committed to the development of renewable energy powered economies and have invested more than $100 billion dollars. The result is disappointing, no fossil fuel power stations replaced, no change to carbon emissions and high electricity charges.

By stark contrast about 30 years ago, in a period of just 10 years, France constructed 35 nuclear reactors replacing almost all its fossil fuel electricity generation. Today France has 58 nuclear reactors, the lowest carbon emissions (per capita) of the large developed countries and low electricity charges.

The need to transfer to non carbon energy sources, because of climate change and the depletion of global oil and gas reserves, will be the big challenge for the world economies over the next decade or so. Successful, cost effective transition plans will be based on real world engineering data and evidence, not ideological beliefs.

Tom Bond OFIEAust


I posted the below comment on John Quiggan’s web site at:

John Quiggan,

I understand what you are saying. It has been said many times by others. However, I disagree (but am open to be convinced).

Can we simplify this discussion so we reduce the number of variables.

Let’s compare the cost of a) an emissions-free system that can supply our existing demand with b) an emissions-free (no nuclear) system that can provide the demand as you expect if we have the pricing system you are advocating.

For the existing system let’s assume the NEM demand (for 2007 because I have the figures on top of my head)

1. Average demand is 25GW
2. Peak demand is 33GW at 7 pm in July (winter)
3. Summer baseload is about 18GW (occasionally 17 GW)
4. Mid winter baseload is 20 GW

That is the demand we have to supply. The capital cost for this system with nuclear only (for simplicity I am ignoring the capacity reserve margin of about 20%) is roughly estimated as follows.

New nuclear, settled down cost, at say A$3000/kW ($3700/kW for the first units if wee remove the impediments so we get the same price as for the UAE):
The total capital cost is: $33GW x $3000/kW = $99 billion

We can reduce this cost a little if we replace 8GW of nuclear with 8GW of pumped hydro (for $15 billion, refer to the pumped hydro paper on BNC); the cost reduces to:
Nuclear: 25GW x $3000/kW = $75 billion, plus
Pumped hydro: 8GW for $15 billion
Total = $90 billion

But keep in mind, we have to replace the existing fleet of fossil fuel generators with something over the same time period as we would be building new nuclear. If we replaced the existing generators with coal (no CCS), the cost would be:
Coal only: 33GW x $2000/kW = $66 billion

So the extra capital cost for nuclear and pumped hydro would be $24 billion

Sensitivity analysis on the unit costs I’ve used: If I have underestimated the settled down cost per kW by 50%, the cost of the nuclear only option would be say $150 billion instead of $99 billion. The difference between replacing with coal only or replacing with nuclear only would be $84 billion.

[By the way, I believe that nuclear should and could be a lot cheaper than coal. It can be in the future. We need to remove all the impediments that have been imposed on nuclear as a result of the 40 odd years of anti-nuclear protesting.]

Now let’s turn to your alternative. I understand (perhaps misunderstand) you are arguing that, through flexible pricing, smart grids, etc., we can shift load to when the renewables are most efficient. This would require totally impracticable amounts of energy storage.

The BZE have put a great deal of effort into developing the ‘Zero Carbon Australia by 2020’ plan to do what you are arguing for. They used heroic assumptions about smart grids, efficiency improvements and fuel switching from fossil fuels to electricity for land transport and heat. Martin Nicholson and I authored a critique of this study. You can Google it or find in on BNC.

In short, it shows that their plan to provide our electricity needs is based on non-existent technologies, and performance from their assumed technologies that are unlikely to be viable for decades, if ever. The conclusions of the critique are:
• The ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan has significantly underestimated the cost and timescale required to implement such a plan.
• Our revised cost estimate is nearly five times higher than the estimate in the Plan: $1,709 billion compared to $370 billion. The cost estimates are highly uncertain with a range of $855 billion to $4,191 billion for our estimate.
• The wholesale electricity costs would increase nearly 10 times above current costs to $500/MWh, not the $120/MWh claimed in the Plan.
• The total electricity demand in 2020 is expected to be 44% higher than proposed: 449 TWh compared to the 325 TWh presented in the Plan.
• The Plan has inadequate reserve capacity margin to ensure network reliability remains at current levels. The total installed capacity needs to be increased by 65% above the proposed capacity in the Plan to 160 GW compared to the 97 GW used in the Plan.
• The Plan’s implementation timeline is unrealistic. We doubt any solar thermal plants, of the size and availability proposed in the plan, will be on line before 2020. We expect only demonstration plants will be built until there is confidence that they can be economically viable.
• The Plan relies on many unsupported assumptions, which we believe are invalid; two of the most important are:
1. A quote in the Executive Summary “The Plan relies only on existing, proven, commercially available and costed technologies.”
2. Solar thermal power stations with the performance characteristics and availability of baseload power stations exist now or will in the near future.

The demand is higher in the ZCA plan and in our critique than in the NEM 2007 figures I used in the example above so the two sets of figures are not directly comparable. However, the costs are consistent with the other studies that show renewables cannot do the job and, even with heroic assumptions, the cost of a renewable system would be in the order of 5 to 50 times the cost of doing the same with nuclear.


The critique is mainly focussed on assumptions about the availability of wind, sun, and the initial assumptions of the energy needed.

The ZCA report though doesn’t even pass muster on a technical level.

The Molten Salt Storage requirements are vastly underrated to achieve the stated claim that power can be generated through each night.

Similarly the solar multiple is vastly underrated. At best, the solar multiple quoted could heat but a minor fraction of the the peak storage specified (17h).

Lastly, just to achieve the storage specified, which would not be enough, would require around 1.6 million tonnes of salt per site, about 20 million tonnes across all 12 sites. This would strip the world’s known reserves, plus require convoys of trucks rolling across desert roads, every day, for several years, just to deliver the salt to site.


There’s been a lot of support in these comments for nuclear power. After about 60 years of nuclear generation overseas, has the world really found a safe and secure way of disposing of the nuclear waste? If so, what is it and has the cost of doing this been factored in?


Hi Peter Stewart, and welcome to BNC. I hope you will stay and continue discussion.

The BNC web site includes many articles and comments on the issue of the management of what is commonly called nuclear waste but I call once used nuclear fuel.

1. Firstly, I do not see that we want to dispose of ‘once used nuclear fuel’. We’ve only used about 1% of the available energy so far. So I argue we want to keep it until such time as it is more economic to reuse the ‘once used nuclear fuel’ rather than mine more uranium (or throium). So I suggest the question should be about the long term management and storage of ‘once used nuclear fuel’ rather than the disposal of it.

2. The quantities of used fuel are miniscule compared with the toxic emissions from fossil fuel electricity generation. This picture shows 16 concrete canisters that hold all the used fuel from the entire life of a now decommissioned US nuclear power plant. The power plant operated for 31 years and supplied 44TWh of electricity. If that electricity had been generated by coal, it would have produced about 44 million tonnes of CO2, roughly equivalent amount of mine waste and fly ash, 44 tonnes of uranium released to the environment, and many tonnes of heavy metals, carcogenic hydro carbons and particulates. These are not contained; they are released to the environment. The point that I am making is the the eventual waste products from nuclear are miniscule in quantity, and are contained, unlike the emissions from fossil fuel generators. I’d also point out that the toxic emissions from nuclear decay over time but many of the the toxic emisisons from fossil fuel generation do not.

Compared with the waste from fossil fuels, the waste from nuclear power is trivial both in quantity and in the cost of the externalities. If you would like to know more about this, you might like to Google “ExternE”.

You ask whether the cost of waste management has been factored in. Yes, the cost is included in the cost of electricity from nuclear power plants.


Well… if this so-​​called waste is such a big deal, then you do with it what you do with any other kind of waste, really. Reduce, re-​​use, and recycle.

There’s really a very, very small quantity of this byproduct material — approximately 20 tonnes of used fuel per gigawatt-​​year, for existing light-​​water reactors with no processing or recycling of that used fuel. Even though it’s such a small quantity of material, improving the efficiency of modern power reactors and the burn-​​up of their fuel reduces still further the amount of used fuel generated.

That’s an infinitesimal quantity of material, compared to all the other waste, and potentially hazardous waste from industrial processes, that we’re producing in society.

That quantity of material should be compared to the approximately 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere from an equivalent amount of coal-​​fired electricity generation.

This used fuel is a solid material with quite a high density, and a small volume. It’s easy to handle and store, and it’s compact.

It’s radioactive, but there’s nothing supernaturally mysterious or dangerous about radioactivity.

This material is a stable solid, it’s insoluble in water, and it doesn’t burn or spill. It’s easy to handle. We can easily handle this small amount of material at the plants where it is generated for as long as a century, so moving it off-​​site doesn’t need to be done in a hurry.

But is this used fuel really “waste”?

95% of typical once-​​used LWR fuel is unchanged uranium. Why not simply recover the uranium from this used fuel, and re-​​use it?

Straight away, then, we’ve reduced the “waste” quantity to only 1% of what we originally had, or approximately one tonne.

Of that one tonne, 25% of it, 250 kg, is made up of a mixture of transuranic actinides. All those actinides can be re-​​used as fuel in fast reactors, and many of them, such as Np-​​237, Pu-​​238, Am-​​241 and Cf-​​252 have important, valuable technological applications.

Most of this mixture of transuranic actinides is made up of a mixture of plutonium nuclides, but this mixture is not viable weapons fuel, and the efficient use of this material as reactor fuel does not require the use of the plutonium-​​selective chemical extraction which would be needed to manufacture plutonium for a nuclear weapon.

Making up the remaining 750 kg of material, we have the fission products. The fission products make up almost all of the radioactivity in used nuclear fuel, but the majority of the radioactivity comes from relatively short-​​lived radionuclides which will decay quickly. Many of the moderately long-​​lived radioactive fission products have valuable technological applications, in medicine, research and industry, and they can be recovered for productive uses.

In short, handling and storing this tiny amount of solid material, which is easy to handle safely and keep isolated from the environment, is not at all an unsolved, intractable challenge.

When discussing “nuclear waste”, it’s very valuable to be informed about exactly how much of this material is formed from a certain amount of energy generation, what it’s made of, what its properties are, what the actual lifetimes of these radionuclides are, and what their applications and uses are.

If “nuclear waste” is such a dilemma, the best thing to do is to not waste it.


You query the use of 2008 data and yet base on your arguments on the ABARE report.
The ABARE report use 2007-2008 data.
They also site that wind power will make up 12% of power generation under their modelling set to increase due to its efficency and cheap cost.
Did you guys even read the report your quoting?


Reginald Barrington,

Of course we’ve read the report, and thoroughly. How could we have prepared the critique if we didn’t?

Your question is silly. My question to you is “have you understood the ZCA2020 report?

Have you understood trhe critique?

Do you understand that if one option costs twice as much as another (in this case it is about 5 to 10 times as much),you don’t go chasing details that will make only a few percent difference to the outcome.

The ZCA 2020 plan is totally nonsensical. It is based on technology that doiesn’t exist and porobably will never be commercially viable.

perhaps you should read, and study, the report and the critique and understand what both are saying.


Wind capacity factor actually 12% at morning peak?

Even if I am correct, this is still far below the assumptions made in the ZCA so-called Plan. ZCA state that 50GW will come from wind in 2020. 200MW is only 0.4% of the assumed wind contribution, which is itself still inadequate.



Never a truer word was spoken.

I would substitute “take for ever and cost the Earth”, but why quibble about a matter of degree?


Thanks for this critique.

The BZE plan has a trans-Nullarbor HV DC power link; Do you factor the consequent modest degree of demand smoothing between eastern state and WA grids into your calculations?

How would a nuclear power station near the Nullarbor coast west of Ceduna and connected to the now national grid via that trans-Nullarbor HV DC power link affect the BZE proposal?

Is there a problem with a substantial proportion of domestic plane travel being replaced by CO2 emission-free High Speed Rail?


DA a couple of factoids in favour of the proposal

1) WA has 60% of Australia’s gas. It would be easier to transmit peak electrons than piped gas to south eastern Australia when it runs short. Indications are that Qld coal seam gas will go overseas, not interstate, so WA is the swing producer.

2) Olympic Dam mine needs 700 MW to expand, including a large desalination plant and pipeline from the coast. Where will that energy come from?

PS I read on Crikey or somewhere that Westpac was going to finance new coal fired plant in WA. That seems to have been quickly hushed up.


There’s a bit of a typographical error in my above comment. It should be fairly obvious, but anyway:

“95% of typical once-​​used LWR fuel is unchanged uranium. Why not simply recover the uranium from this used fuel, and re-​​use it?

Straight away, then, we’ve reduced the “waste” quantity to only 1% of what we originally had, or approximately one tonne.”

That “1%” should actually say “5%”.


JN, keep reading Crikey.

ANZ has been outed as the silent financier for the revamp of the former Muja power station in WA. More interesting by far than their actual finncial arrangement was the fact that they demanded anonymity, presumably for fear of being slaughtered in the Court of Public Opinion.

Olympic Dam would be a fine business case for Australia’s first NPP or two – say, 2 x 400MW, dry cooled, located close to the load at the mine site. The existing transmission line, upgraded if necessary, would be excellent for transmitting surplus into the SA system and from there to the Eastern Australian NEM, as well as providing adequate back-up capacity in case one of the NPP’s was not available.


“Olympic Dam would be a fine business case for Australia’s first NPP or two – say, 2 x 400MW, dry cooled, located close to the load at the mine site.”

I’m not 100% sure, but I would take an educated guess that a large portion of Olympic Dam’s energy requirements are not electricity, but they’re primary energy supplied by natural gas and fuels like diesel for vehicles.

The furnaces used to smelt the 200,000 tonnes of copper each year presumably account for a great deal of the energy requirements – I’m pretty sure they’re fueled by natural gas.

Anyway, regarding plans for renewable energy like Zero Carbon Australia, I think the conclusion, in brief, is this:

I think everyone agrees that it is technically possible in theory to build enough solar thermal and wind generation that could replace all of Australia’s fossil-fuelled stationary electricity generation.

However, it would take far longer, and it would cost far, far, far more, and it would have a greater footprint on the landscape, than the use of nuclear energy.

So why then would you ever consider this scenario to possibly have more merit than the use of nuclear energy?

The only way that you can possibly judge this option to be better than the nuclear energy option is if you have this dogma, this ideology, which just takes it as a given that nuclear energy is intrinsically bad and that solar and wind are intrinsically good, outside of any examination of science, evidence or reason.


Regarding wind farm construction rates, Gunning wind farm (46.5MW, 31 turbines), run by Acciona who run the Waubra wind farm in Vic :

Approval granted 2004. Construction started May 2010, expected 12 to 18 months construction time. Again add 2 to 3 years of previous time for wind monitoring, compiling EA etc, so thats about 10 years form start to finish.

Interesting to note the sum total of the community newsletters is 1 :

The website for the Gunning Wind Farm, which currently has a placeholder page :


* For $8 a week extra on your electricity bill, you will give up all domestic plane travel, all your bus trips and you must all take half your journeys by electrified trains.

* They even suggest that all you two car families cut back to just one electric car.

So then…… EXACTLY WHAT do you people think will happen post Peak Oil (which occurred two or three years ago?)


Hi Mike Stasse,

Thank you for the question. I wonder if you are actually interested in the answer. If you are, there are many posts on BNC that will answer your question. Here is one that shows the way to least cost electricity, low-emission, environmentally benign electricity generation:

Other posts explain how low-cost, low-emissions electricity will diplace, over time, gas for heating and oil for transport (in part with liquid fuels produced by electricity). The key is to have low-cost, not-high cost, low emissions electricity. This is what renewable generated electricity cannot achieve.


Just a quick couple of questions for the experts.
(1) If we were to replace existing coal fired power stations with nuclear, in theory we would only have to replace the boilers and coal handling facilities with nuclear reactors. The existing steam turbo-generators, switchgear, power lines etc could remain, as well as some of the communications, buildings, etc. Would this significantly reduce the cost?
(2) How safe is it to transfer nuclear fuel from point of origin to the power station? (Accidents, theft etc.) Can this fuel be used to make WMDs?


Hi Peter Stewart,

These are excellent questions, and just exactly the questions many in the general public ask. I’ll give a preliminary short answer, and may come back with more. Others may contribute too.

There are many posts on BNC that will answer your questions and I’d point you to the “Sustainable Nuclear” tab and the “Renewal Limits” tab. There is a wealth of information in the posts and comments.

Here is my quick initial response:

1. Some argue that we could simply replace the coal boiler and coal handling facilities ad coal power statiosn with nuclear reactors. But it is not that simple and many others believe it would not be economic to do so. I expect it would be more economic to build whole new nuclear power stations. If we ‘brown-field’ (build a new nuclear plant on an existing coal fired power stations site) then some existing infrastructure can be used and save some costs. However, it may be more economic, considering the 60+ year life of a nuclear plant, to build it on the coast where it can use sea water cooling instead of requiring our scarce fresh water for cooling.

2. Nuclear fuel can be handled. It is not dangerous until it comes out of the reactor. Uranium, has about 20,000 times the energy density of coal – this means far smaller shipping quantities and costs. Roughly 20,000 times less ships, ship journeys, trains, train journeys and rail lines. Similarly less mining and less mine waste and heavy metals released to the environment. Nuclear fuel is far safer, and so is the extraction process.

3. Regarding nuclear safety, I’d refer you to this post, and particularly to Figures 1 and 2: Nuclear is about 10 to 100 times safer then coal for electricity generation.

4. Others will be able to answer your questions about thefts and WMD better than I can, or point you to the best posts and comments to address these questions.


Peter Stewart,

A photo is worth a thousand words, so here a re three:

1. Used nuclear fuel stored in canisters . These 16 canisters contain all the once used nuclear fuel fro 32 years of operation of a now decommissioned Yankee nuclear plant. The once used nuclear fuel will be reused in the next generation of reactors, so it is not waste and will not be permanently disposed of.

2. Pickering nuclear power station, nestled nicely in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, and emitting no soot, smog, heavy metals, or toxic benzenes, long chain hydro carbons, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides or fly ash.

Further to my answer to your first questions, this site argues the case that we can convert existing coal plants to nuclear plants:


Hi, Peter Stewart,

Brownfield nuclear power stations cannot use existing turbines, etc, because they run at too low a temperature. Nuclear power stations require physically larger, low pressure and low temperature turbines to achieve the same power output.

However, existing coal fired power stations have workforces, switchyards, land with appropriate zoning for existing use, cooling water supplies, but note Peter Lang’s comment re salt rather than fresh – it is a factor, but perhaps not a determining factor.

There is s strong argument for locating coal fired power ststions near the coal source, rather than near the electrical load, which is commonly a city or a steel works or an aluminium smelter.

Existing power stations also have connection via their switchyard to the national grid covering Qld, Victoria, NSW, Tas, ACT and SA. Extending this HV system to WA and NT would possibly be prohibitively expensive, so I will not suggest that it is viable at present, although some solar enthusiasts have based their predictions (guesses?) on an asumption that Australia will be connected from top to bottom and side to side quite soon. Costs for this could/would put the NBN in the shade.

Salt versus fresh water? NSW is essentially alone in having three coastal power stations – Eraring, Vales Point and Munmorah. The latter is worn out with 2 of its 4 units no longer functional and the other two on life support. It is an obvious candidate.

One benefit which Peter did not mention but is becoming a bit of an issue in the Hunter Valley is dust. The research is in its infancy, but the smallest sizes of dust may well be the most damaging to human respiratory systems. These appear to originate with power stations rather than with coal mines or farms, as reparted by Prof Howard Bridgeman at a public meeting I attended not much more than a month back. The local power stations, which have state of the art fabric filters, like tens of thousands of large vacuum cleaner bags, through which the gas from the furnaces passes before being blown into the chimney stacks by large fans. Note: the research is in its infancy and centres on sub-2 micron particles, which are fiendishly difficult to measure, let alone to analyse.

So, I am a supporter of brownfield power locations for the first few nuclear power stations, in order to capture the advantages I referred to above. The future, however, will see at least some of the new power stations on the coast, close to or inside cities, in order to avoid transmission losses and transmission costs and to conserve fresh water.


It seems to me a prime candidate for nuclear would be the proposed Bayswater B baseload station next to an existing coal fired station. Presumably transmission and cooling will only require minor new work. My impression is that the developers don’t really want to use gas but feel they are being forced into it.

I believe that long run most of the natural gas in south eastern Australia (SA, Vic, NSW, Tas) will have to be supplemented by coal seam gas from Queensland. WA’s abundant natgas is too far away to be of help. Before carbon pricing has been implemented there is already major resistance to anything more expensive than coal.

Thus one advantage of an east-west transmission line is that power from WA’s cheap gas would be on tap to SE Australia. There is also the 700 MW and desalination plant needed for Olympic Dam mine which is in the path of that east-west connection. Diverting half the NBN budget to that end would help.


@John N:

Bayswater B power station site may not be as attractive as you hope. It does not come with a water cooling supply. Air cooling is not impossible by any means but it adds considerably to the cost and noise. It is also new to Australia.

Apart from cost and efficiency, the first-of-a-kind issues relating to air cooling are best avoided during the design and approvals process if more conventional options are available.

Regarding coal seam methane, the resource in NSW is huge but there are very significant environmental issues which are becoming very contentious, whether Qld or NSW. These centre on degradation of both underground and surface water supplies, use of chemical cocktails during extraction, the need for large volumes of fresh water during extraction and not just the NIMBY stuff, though that is also present. Landowners fear that their land and water supplies will be degraded permanently and that they will suffer significant and permanent loss due to a one-off operation which will bring them very little return.

Regarding your comment re WA’s gas supplies and a transmission line across the Nullabor… how much electricity do you think can be pushed down a single set of three wires? We are talking about half a dozen transmission lines carrying direct current (HVDC) if we are to make any sort of impression on East Coast power demands. That will cost not part of an NBN, but the equivalent of many NBN’s. In the absense of a proposal to cost, think 1500km x 6 off = 9000 km, plus beefed-up interconnectors up and down the East Coast, a similar sized undertaking.

Tens of billions of dollars to cross the continent
Tens of billions to increase the capacity of east coast distributors.
More tens of billions of dollars to build a mixture of CCGT and OCGT in WA.
At least 5% additional losses between generation in WA and the point of consumption.
Security of supply issues, especially during heat waves.
All the above, to still end up with a carbon-based power system, although only about half as carbon-intensive as coal based power.

This suggestion is seriously flawed.

I have not seen anybody attempt to put dollar values on the possible savings, but nuclear power has the advantage of being able to be located close to major loads and in relatively diverse locations throughout the grid. Done properly, some of the planned transmission line upgrades may be avoided, delayed or reduced in scale without jeopardising security of supply. My rough guess is that, if network upgrades planned for the next umpteen years are tens of billions of dollars per year, that there must be enough savings from this source alone to pay for one or two GW of installed capacity down the track.

More capacity means more than just more wires and the same capacity.

A little considered aspect of nuclear power is the reduction in terrorism opportunities. Yes, reduction. Transmission lines are very attractive terrorist targets because they are so easy to knock down and so difficult to defend. Bougainville Copper Mine was targetted by the secessionist rebels not by frontal assault. What eventually forced the closure of CRA’s (Now Rio Tinto) large gold and copper mine was the realisation that the power station at the coast simply could not provide power to the mine because the rebels could take out the transmission towers at will. Nuclear power stations, when sited close to the loads which they serve, not only save the costs of building transmission lines but also substantially reduce the potential for this type of activity.

I say this, because detractors sometimes state that nuclear power increases the opportunity for terrorism, either by providing a target or by fuel theft. The truth is the converse, because the major threat is to transmission towers. The other two threats are hypothetical in that no nuclear facility has ever been targetted directly by terrorists, anywhere.

My apologies for bringing terrorism into this thread, but it is in the context of pointing out that large, heavy duty transmission systems not only cost heaps, but that they also come with risks which, though the probability is small in Australia, are very difficult or impossible to handle when things go wrong.


This is in response to John Bennets comments,
and others, regarding a DC link across the Nullarbor.

If all we wanted was to pump about 10GW peak across the Nullarbor, we would only need 4 lines – two pairs
of +/-800kV line-pairs. See Xiangjiaba-Shanghai UHVDC link – This link is 1907km long and can pump 6.4GW.

I agree that the cost of building this to use some WA gas reserves (alone) would not be justified.

If we wanted to create a supergrid along the lines of Gregor Czisch’s study, we would probably need four times the capacity of the Xiangjiaba-Shanghai UHVDC link.

If we did go nuclear, the reality of NIMY-ism will mean that there will not be many available sites for nuclear power stations and I suspect none will be near the main loads (cities). Building a few (large nuclear power stations on a single site may be the only feasible solution. In that case we may need such a DC link after as well


Sorry for all the typos:

NIMY-ism is NIMBY-ism.

last sentence should be:
Building a few (large) nuclear power stations on a few sites may be the only feasible solution. In that case we may need such a DC link to send nuclear generated power to WA.


@David leCompte:

I agree with David, to a point. NIMBYism is alive and well and that is one reason to support brownfield development of NPP’s, at least initially.

Winning the hearts and the minds of 100% of the population is impossible, but at least some of the doubters will come across as existing sites are developed and their fears are dealt with. The challeng will be to convince enough people to welcome the cheapest, safest, lowest cost, most technologically complete energy options in future and I am convinced that nuclear has a big role to play in a balanced mix.

To say in relation to future nuclear power stations “none will be near the main loads (cities)” is to abandon hope without even trying. People aren’t generally stupid, but on this issue they have been mislead for so long that time and patience will be needed for the old fears and prejudices to be sorted out and for the majority to see clearly.

One of the best ways to educate the public about nuclear power is to pick the starting point carefully, avoiding as many non-core issues as possible. Remember, Sydney used to have large coal fired power stations at White Bay, Bunnerong and Balmain. These may not have been loved by all, but for a generation or two, they performed very well indeed. Other capitals will have similar stories to tell re coal fired power stations in their midst.

Nuclear has been shown to be cheaper and far safer to its operators and its neighbours than coal or, for that matter, traffic jams, yet populations have happily put up with them. Who knows what decisions may be preferred by Joe Public in 2 or 3 decades? Certainly, the necessary square miles of mirrors and PV collectors would be an impossible sell in a city.

Look at the current ruckus re coal seam methane in Balmain (?), which caught the local community by surprise.

I have faith in the capacity of humans to figure out what is best for them and, given time, to follow the chosen path. If there is better base load power technology than NPP’s for Australia’s near future, I have yet to hear of it. The rest is just details.


WIth regard to NIMBY-ism one has to face reality.

When I came from the country to Sydney to start my 1st bachelor’s degree in 1972, there were protests about a 2nd runway then. In 1974? the Whitlam government chose a 2nd airport near Galston (and not near the Gorge as many thought). Later the Hawke government sited one near the radiotelescope I (then) worked on at Kemps Creek.

The 2nd runway was built, but a 2nd airport will never be built in Sydney.

As suburbs build up around Lucas Heights, the pressure increases to move or close it. My guess is that it will be moved.

In 1972, I remember the protests to stop the Western expressway through Glebe, as well as the “Missing Link” from Figtree bridge to the
toll gates of what is now called the F3.

Then there were the plans in the 70s to upgrade Pennant Hills Rd to a freeway – when most of the land along the road was farm land.

NIMBY-ism stopped these too.

Given this history, what hope would there be to get a nuclear power station near Sydney?


On the east-west connector a perusal of Google Earth shows that Olympic Dam is close to mid longitude between Sydney and Perth. If they get their 700 MW from the east Australia grid then the transmission will have reached about half way across the continent. Why not keep going?

Perhaps this is early days but I believe the whole of eastern Australia will come to depend on Qld Surat Basin coal seam gas. In the last couple of years connectors have been built to northern NSW and the Moomba SA natgas pipeline. Note the latter connects to Victoria from the node at Adelaide. Another hint on increased Qld gas import is that the 250 MW peaking plant to be built at Mannum SA may expand to 1000 MW. The next combined cycle plant to come online will be Mortlake Vic I believe. I suspect they are looking further ahead than Bass Strait supplies.

By 2020 or so eastern CSG could be higher priced than WA natgas. I believe there is a major gas price discrepancy between the east and west coasts of Canada. I suggest the E-W connector is an issue that will keep coming up.


@John Newlands:

One: The 1GW you mention is close to the natural growth annually in Australian electrical power. It is chicken feed in the longer term.

Two: Where the 700MW is generated to supply a mine in northern SA is similarly immaterial in the long run. I have previously suggested that it may represent an opportunity for NPP approaching that size at the mine and upgraded connection back to Adelaide, where I understand that they are considering new power supplies for a water purification facility. Of course, cooling water is a bigger issue at the m ine than it is at the coast; air cooling may work out OK. NIMBY-ism at the mine’s end of things may well be less of a problem. And so on and on.

Three. Since when does Qld have the only coal seam gas in Australia? NSW’s resources are also significant. Victoria hints at coal-to-gas options for brown coal. I don’t like CSG much, but the gas options are more varied than just a pipeline from Qld to somewhere else.


Wow – Dr Karl just told me on The Drum (while making the jap nukes sound a bit scarier too) that the BZE plan would deliver 100% renewable energy at 1/3 the costs of using coal to deliver the same electricity.
[deleted ad hom]


I’ve been directed here a couple of times from various climate discussions – unfortunately, I have not been able to make use of the content, as the _complete_ lack of contrast between black text and the background photo makes it entirely unreadable (in both Firefox and Explorer). I had to select all the text in the page in order to even _find_ the comment field.

Just a suggestion – use a different background photo, change the font color of your text, or otherwise modify the site. This layout meets, I have to say, the criteria of


Not sure what platforms you are using KR, but I have never seen the page rendered as you describe, only ever black text on white background (Safari/Mac, Firefox/Mac, Firefox/Windos XP).


Same here, I’ve used a wide variety of browsers/OS, including Safari and Chrome on OS X, Chrome, Firefox & IE on Windows XP/Vista/7 and have never seen the issue you describe. No one else has ever reported it to me either.


On ‘The Conversation’, Roger Dargaville, of the Research Institute, University of Melbourne, posted an article “How do you power a billion lives?” . In reply to one of my comments Roger Dargaville said:

“I’m a fan of the concept of ZCA – I don’t see any component of their plan that is not already in existence or unfeasible.”

I’ll post my full reply here for BNCers and for ease of future access because it will get lost on “The Conversation”.

It is unfortunate the University of Melbourne, Energy Research Institute is misleading the Australian public by advocating a discredited proposal [1], [2]. It suggests University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute has little understanding of energy economics and is not objective. It appears to be promoting an ideology instead of rational analysis.

Let’s conduct a simple comparison of what we could achieve with nuclear versus renewables. First, let’s set context as to how much we could afford to spend. Then we’ll compare what we could achieve if we spent those funds on a renewable or on a nuclear generating system. To keep it simple we’ll compare solar thermal and nuclear. We’ll use current costs for existing technology. Expenditure and costs are in current 2011 dollars (at parity with US $).

The Australian government has committed $50 billion to build a National Broadband Network by 2020. (The most recent estimate is $78 billion but let’s ignore that for now and assume $50 billion over 10 years). Let’s extend this spending rate to 2030.

The electricity industry already spends about $3.5 billion per year on capital expenditure for existing and new electricity generation plant [3], [4]. Let’s add say 1/2 of this, i.e. $18 billion per decade, to our kitty for building new generating capacity.

Thus, we have $68 billion per decade to invest in new generating capacity ($50 billion from the NBN and $18 billion from redirecting new generating capacity capex).


The most recent approved solar thermal plant (construction has not started yet) is the Tonopah solar thermal plant in USA [5]. It will be 110 MW with expected 50% capacity factor. It is expected to generate 485,000 MWh per year. The US government has provided a loan guarantee for $737 million [6] but the estimated total project costs does not seem to be publically available information. Wikipedia says “about $1 billion” [7]. Whatever the current estimate for the total project cost is, it will probably double by the time the project is commissioned. But let’s use $1 billion for now. The unit capital cost is $9,090/kW for 50% capacity factor (expected).
Land area is 1600 acres (647 ha). Water use is 600 acre-feet (740,000 m3) per year.

From the above we can calculate for $68 billion we’d get:
7,480 GW capacity and
33 TWh per year of electricity

It would use 50 million cubic metres of fresh water per year (in the deserts!)
It would require 440 sq km of land area
It would last 25 years and then have to be replaced.

The United Arab Emirates has contracted a Korean consortium to build a 5,600 MW nuclear power plant for $20.4 billion [9], [10], which is $3,650/kW.

For $68 billion per decade we could have:
18,630 MW capacity
140 TWh per year of electricity

It would use negligible fresh water per year (use sea water for cooling)
It would require 19 km2 of land area
It would last 60 years with probable life extension.

For the same cost, $68 billion, nuclear would generate over four times as much low emissions electricity per year (for over twice as many years). The nuclear plants would last more than twice as long as the solar plants. The nuclear plants would not need the costly infrastructure in the deserts the solar plants would need. The nuclear plants would not require 50 million cubic metres per year of fresh water in the deserts. The nuclear plants would require about 5% as much land area [11]. The nuclear plants would need about 10% as much material (steel, concrete, glass etc.) per MWh of electricity generated.


[1] Nicholson and Lang (2010), “Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan – Critique

[2] Trainer (2010) “Another ZCA critique

[3] Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA), (2010)

[4] Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE), (2011)

Click to access BREE_MEGP.pdf

[5] NREL (2011), “Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project

[6] US DOE (2011), “Loan Guarantee Program – Solar Reserve LLC (Crescent Dunes)

[7] Wikipedia, “Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project

[8] Solar Reserve (2010) “Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC

Click to access FactSheet_CrescentDunes.pdf

[9} “South Korea wins UAE $20.4 billion nuclear contract” (2009)

[10] Nuclear power in the United Arab Emirates

[11] David Mackay (2009) “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air


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