Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finkel Report on Australian Electricity Market No Solution

The "Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market" by
Alan Finkel, Karen Moses, Chloe Munro, Terry Effeney and Mary O’Kane has been released by the Australian Government. The 212 page report includes eight pages of recommendations. The report proposes short term regulation requiring energy suppliers and distributors to provide a reserve of generating capacity (dispatchable power). However, the report doesn't address how to do this in a cost effective way. The likely result is that supplying companies will take the opportunity to use this as a reason to further increase prices.

This report is very much focused on the short term  issues of reliable electricity supply which are only an inconvenience to the community, but a major political threat to governments. The report fails to adequately address the long term issue of carbon pollution from coal and gas fired power stations which places the prosperity of the nation and the safety of its citizens at risk.

The authors of the report have met their brief, in providing a way for the Australian Government to avoid having to deal with difficult issues of human caused climate change and reliable electricity supply.  Instead the industry regulator will be required to introduce short term regulations which will increase the cost of electricity in the short and long term, as well as greatly adding to the cost decades from now, when Australia is forced to take effective action on climate change.

If the aim is to increase the reliability of the electricity supply, then there are some simple low cost ways through modern technology. Modern air-conditioners use electronically controlled motors (so called "inverters"). It would require only a small enhancement to the program controlling the inverters to have them help stabilize the power grid. Australian law could be changed to require all new domestic and industrial air-conditioners permanently connected to the grid to be programmed to help maintain it. This would cost a few dollars per unit and the user would be unlikely to notice the difference. A few times a year the air-conditioner would  switch to low power mode for a few minutes to help maintain the grid.

Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, Research School of Engineering, ANU, presented an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster". Dr  Franklin provided a clear and credible analysis of what caused the South Australian blackout (which precipitated the Finkel Report) and options to improve the reliability of supply while also increasing the use of renewable energy and phasing out coal.

 Unfortunately it seems unlikely the Australian Government would feel able to accept Dr Franklin's advice. One hope for the future is that technology will come to the rescue. The continually dropping cost of solar and wind energy, along with options for battery and pumped hydro storage will likely have more influence on energy options than Australian Government policy. Australia will likely achieve a reliable renewable energy system despite, not because of, government policy.

On Thursday I attended a community energy session at EnergyLab hosted by University of Technology Sydney. Speakers from ClearSky, Pingala,  and Community Power Agency put the case for a different energy future for Australia,  where the community is involved in planning and implementation.

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