Grid zero nuance: commenting on decarbonizing the grid misses the point on batteries and nuclear power | Temperature control

Comments on the decarbonisation of Australia’s electricity grid seem to be heading for a net-zero nuance, with questionable claims about the cost of batteries and nuclear power over the past week.

One claim is based on a billion-dollar cost estimate of a nuclear power plant that does not yet exist, and another claims billions of dollars against the cost of building batteries.

First to nuclear power, which, let us not forget, has been effectively banned in Australia since the late 1990s.

on page three of the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, columnist Piers Akerman wrote an “exclusive” news story showing that “nuclear power is cheaper” than coal, gas, solar or wind.

Such a claim would overturn virtually all serious analyzes of electricity costs around the world. So where did it come from? the international Energy Agency maybe, or maybe the CSIRO?

No. Akerman quoted “new data” from Tony Irwin, a nuclear industry veteran and technical director at a consultancy firm with “specialized industry knowledge on the procurement and development of nuclear technologies” with a focus on small modular reactors (SMR).

According to Akerman, Irwin’s data showed that “nuclear power” costs $5,596/kW to build, compared to $14,882 for large-scale solar, $12,372 for wind and about $10,000 for coal and gas, both with carbon capture and storage. .

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, who wants nuclear power in Australia to be considered, tweeted a link to the story, saying: “Maybe nuclear isn’t a dirty word after all?”

Maybe nuclear isn’t a dirty word after all?

I still have no answer from the Prime Minister about a National Energy Summit to discuss future energy sources.

We need leadership to start the conversation & @The_Nationals are willing to take the lead.

— David Littleproud MP (@D_LittleproudMP) June 25, 2022

But one problem with using Irwin’s numbers is that they’re based on an estimate of the cost of a particular SMR design that hasn’t been built yet and won’t be producing power until 2029.

The estimate comes from a US-based company trying to build its SMR in partnership with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, which budgeted at over $8.5 billion for the plant. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy approved up to $2 billion in funding to support it.

SMRs have not yet been commercialized. The name suggests they’re neat and ready-made, but while there are dozens of designs and development projects out there, it’s not something a government can currently buy and plug into their electrical grid.

Irwin told Temperature Check that the numbers had been published on the website of the consultancy in October 2021and gave a link.

His calculations include “adjustments” to the percentage of time each type of electricity can produce, the lifetime of power plants and how flexible they are, which significantly increases the cost of all other forms of electricity except SMR nuclear.

The latest version of the CSIRO’s GenCost report, which examines how much different electricity sources will cost, says there is no prospect of an SMR plant being built in Australia before 2030.

By then, it estimated costs between $7,700/kW and about $17,000/kW — at least five times the cost of large-scale solar power by 2030.

The GenCost report says that by 2030, the costs of other electricity generation and delivery – including large-scale solar, wind and especially batteries – will fall even further.

The secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of Energy, Glenne Drover, who is a broad supporter of nuclear power, told Temperature Check that the costs of SMR reactors were “still speculative” and that it would take about five years for the actual costs clearer.

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He said nuclear power “should play a critical role in decarbonizing countries that are not blessed with the space, wind and sun that Australia has”.

“So we may never need it, but we’ll probably have to wait until 2030 to see how the renewables decarbonisation plan plays out.”

Dud charging battery

Would it really cost $6.5 trillion to power Australia on batteries alone, and are there any power system experts who are seriously suggesting that they are for that?

The short answers are no and no. Yet this figure has been used at least twice in comments this month.

In a column Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann argued that “the transition to net zero emissions will be difficult and expensive,” said whatever technology was used to support renewables “will not be cheap” and pointed to a report. that “the cost of battery storage for Australia at $6.5tn”.

Last week, Claire Lehmann, a columnist in the Australian wrote:“The battery storage needed to power all of Australia is estimated at $6.5 trillion. If this is a cost-effective solution, then God will help us all.”

So what is the basis for this claim?

The figure comes from a 2019 report by Industry Super Australia† The authors took the cost of the Tesla battery in South Australia and, in a back-of-envelope calculation, extrapolated that battery’s capacity until it could power the entire electrical grid for a day and a half. That was 7.5 TWh of electricity, the report claimed, though the authors said they were not suggesting that “an attempt should be made to provide all backup using batteries.”

dr. Dylan McConnell, an energy systems analyst at the University of Melbourne, said the song’s usage was a “strawman”, adding, “I can’t believe anyone is still remotely taking it seriously.”

The Australian energy market operator’s draft plan to decarbonise the national electricity market states that by 2050 Australia will need approximately 620 GWh of storage – including all storage technologies, including batteries and dams.

Put another way, that’s about 12 times less electricity than the figure plucked from the Industry Super report.

McConnell said: “There is no justification for the requirement to store the energy of the entire network for 1.5 days. If that were a legitimate requirement, you wouldn’t try to meet that requirement with just lithium-ion batteries.”

Very bad paleo diet

Fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein, a regular on Sky News Australia, infuriated the climate science community last week by tweeting a chart that tracks CO2 levels going back hundreds of millions of years in Earth’s history.

The all-time high is somewhere around 6,000 parts per million (current levels are 420ppm). Epstein said it would be well beyond the year 2100 for emissions to even reach a quarter of that level, and before “we can expect to have ultra-cost-effective non-carbon nuclear power.”

Whatever happens to nuclear power, an important question is what else could the planet expect if CO2 levels rose to 1500 ppm?

dr. Georgy Falster, a paleoclimate scientist at the Australian National University, told Temperature Check: “The last time the atmospheric CO2 concentration was as high as 1,500ppm – about 3.5 times higher than now – was during the Middle Cretaceous, about 100 million years ago.

“The paleo shot suggests that at that time the average temperature on Earth was about 15 to 20 degrees higher than it is now — that’s at least double what it is now,” Falster said.

“The world sea level was on average 75 to 250 meters higher than today mean sea level.”

dr. Ben Henley, a climate scientist at the University of Wollongong, said that warming as little as 1.5 to 2°C “will already have catastrophic consequences for many natural ecosystems and humanity”.

Recreating ancient climates with rising CO2 levels today would mean “virtually every coastal city on Earth would be flooded and human communities decimated,” Henley said.

Epstein may hope that those cheap nuclear plants can operate underwater, provided there are enough people left who need air conditioning.

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