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an interminable conversation 9: some basic physics

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yer most basic sine graph

Jacinta: So it’s time for us oldies to go to school, and get into physics from scratch, including the maths.

Canto: Yes, we’re not going to go all historical this time, much as we love all the nerdy characters to be encountered, instead we’re going to go with the concepts, from simple to complicated. I’ve found a collection of videos, called ‘crash course physics’, and we’re going to follow the ineffable logic of the presenter, Dr Shini Somara, to reach the pinnacle of sagesse en physique. Starting with basic motion in a straight line.

Jacinta: Exciting. I’ve done that. But in this first episode she deals with cars and acceleration, inter alia, including its maths. Equations! Time, position, velocity and acceleration will be explained/analysed in simple terms for this starter.

Canto: Kinematic equations – we’re going to the Kinema! So, motion in one direction on a straight line. You’re stopped at a red light, and then put your foot on the accelerator when it goes green. Seven seconds later (precisely), there’s a siren behind you – a police car is asking you to stop. They give you a ticket for speeding in a 100kph zone.

Jacinta: So, in 7 seconds you’re up to more than 100kph? I know nothing about cars but that’s unusual? Is it?

Canto: I’m sure car nerds can tell us, but so can google. There are plenty of cars that can get to 100 in less than 4 secs, even less than 3. Supposedly. Anyway, you’re doubtful about the police claim, but you can’t be sure, your speedometer is stuffed. How can you challenge the police claim, using maths?

Jacinta: You can’t, and anyway in Australia you’d be defected for a stuffed speedo.

Canto: But this is the USA, the land of shitty libertarian laws. So you’re travelling in one direction, one-dimensionally, so to speak. So the key variables here are the afore-mentioned time, position, velocity and acceleration. We also have to bear in mind change in position, aka displacement, which could have a positive or negative value – in this example, clearly positive. Now, velocity is about how that displacement occurs over time. It also can have a positive or negative value. Acceleration is about changes in velocity over time. You can feel that change – positive or negative – when you’re ‘thrown’ forward or backward on acceleration or braking.

Jacinta: So Dr Somara presents graphs that are fairly easy to read for a stationary vehicle, and one moving at a constant velocity. The vertical x-axis measures position or displacement in metres from an initial position, the y axis measures time. A stationary vehicle will show a straight horizontal line from the moment it stopped until it starts to move again. Constant velocity will show a straight line moving diagonally along both axes. An accelerating vehicle will of course show a curving line, curving up to the vertical, while a decelerating one will be curving to the horizontal.

Canto: So that’s a simple position v time graph, now to look at velocity and acceleration slightly differently, with velocity in metres/second on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal, and with acceleration in metres per second per second, that is, metres per second squared, on the vertical axis, and time, in seconds, on the horizontal. So this relates all our variables, time, position, velocity and acceleration. Average velocity is the change in position over time, and acceleration is the change in velocity over time. To get average velocity you divide change in position by change in time. 

Jacinta: But as Dr Somara says, subtraction is also a feature – to find out ‘change’ you subtract initial value from final value, which sounds right but somehow seems to contradict the previous….

Canto: One’s talking about a change, the other about an average. They’re quite different. So the change in a particular value, or variable, is symbolised or abbreviated as delta, ∆. So, v = ∆x/∆t, average velocity (the v should have a bar above it, but I haven’t learned how to do that – will I need an extra keyboard?) equals change in position over change in time. For Dr Somari’s example, the car moved from 4 metres to 13 metres (the change in position), i.e. a value of 9 metres for ∆x. This occurred over 3 seconds, apparently, which divides as 3m/sec for average velocity over that period. But of course the car was accelerating during that period. The equation for acceleration is a = ∆v/∆t, for average acceleration.

Jacinta: Okay, and we can, apparently handily, rearrange the equation to get v(average) = v(at time zero) + at. This equation is called the Definition of Acceleration. Tadaaa! Constant acceleration is equal to the change in velocity divided by change in time. This is the first of the two main kinematic equations, which links velocity acceleration and time.

Canto: Okay now our physicist turns to gravity (g), which here on Earth is a force causing acceleration at 9.81 m/sec squared. But then she talks about the second kinematic equation, the Displacement Curve, which involves acceleration, starting velocity and time in order to calculate displacement:

x(position) – x(at time zero, initial position) = v(initial velocity)t +1/2a(acceleration)t(squared).

All of which looks very messy because I haven’t learned how to do the proper notation. Anyway this links acceleration as change in velocity to velocity as change in position. Right?

Jacinta: Uhhh, yeah. And the other kinematic equations, we’re assured, are just rearrangements of this dynamic duo. So apparently this takes us back to our speeding issue at the start. The initial velocity was 0, the time was 7 seconds. The displacement curve²equation/formula can be used to work it all out, or at least the acceleration. Our physicist tells that x – x (initial position) is 122 metres, which equals initial velocity (zero) multiplied by 7 seconds (which must surely be zero?)  plus I/2a (which is to be found) multiplied by 7s squared, which is 49 seconds. So 122m = 0 + 49 (49) multiplied by half the acceleration, which by calculation I discovered to be close to 2.5, so the acceleration was approximately 5 metres per second squared.

Canto: It works out! And, following our expert, we can use the Definition of Acceleration formula to arrive at final velocity. It’s basically V + at, or 0 + 5 X 7, so a speed of 35 m/sec, which in km terms is about 126 km/h. Amazing! We got the maths. There is hope!

Jacinta: Well they’re diving into the deep end with crash course physics, as the next video is all about calculus and derivatives. About which I have no idea.

Canto: Yes, maths are the basis of physics, and we lost contact with complex maths decades, though I’m quite good at multiplication. But calculus, duh. Though our teacher tells us that it’s all just about accurately describing change.

Jacinta: Important – she goes on to explain things called derivatives, but I note in the inset:

Not all equations have derivatives! When we say ‘equations’ here, we really mean a function – an equation with only one output for each input. More specifically, we’re talking about functions that have derivatives.

I’m looking forward to clarification of all that.

Canto: So calculus explains the why’s and wherefores of change through derivatives. She also mentions integrals early on, as ways of calculating area under a curve – which we actually mentioned in those terms in a previous post.

Jacinta: We sound smart sometimes. So, derivatives. Dr Somara returns to the car and speeding example. The car drives off after the police incident, accelerating of course. But we don’t have a direct measure of the acceleration, but we know positional change over time. This is apparently equal to amount of time driving, squared, X = t².  After 20 secs of driving, some kind of roadside ‘detector’ reveals the car’s speed. The driver takes time to register that she’s going even faster than 126 mph.

Canto: Dumb blond? Maybe not, maybe the detector is dodgy. How to find the velocity at the moment she passes it? Which, according to Dr Somara is the derivative of her change in position. And this is also about limits. These are key ideas:

Limits are based on the idea that if you have an equation on a graph, you can often predict what it’s going to look like at one point, just by knowing what it looks like at the surrounding points.

Jacinta: So our teacher gives the example of graphing x = t² when t approaches the limit of 0. So remember we have our time on the horizontal, and distance covered (or displacement, or positional change – it seems ‘distance’ is a no-no in this maths) on the vertical axis. So, moving back to zero from t=1 and x=1 she finds that when t=0.5, x=0.25, and when t reaches 0.1, x=0.001, so both values approach zero. This apparently shows what happens when you make intervals smaller. Another definition:

An interval is just a range on a graph. It’s the space between two points on the horizontal axis.

Of course, because that’s the time axis, generally. This is great parroting, but then when parrots copy their trainer perfectly they’re regarded as brilliant.

Canto: So we’re calculating the average velocity over a particular interval – from 15 to 20 secs. We use the equation v = ∆x/∆t (∆x is change in position, ∆t is change in time). The change in position, after subtraction, was 175 metres, the change in time 5 secs. So the average velocity works out as 35 m/sec. But this is only an average, and doesn’t take into account acceleration. But using limits gets us closer to the number we want. You can calculate your average over increasingly small intervals to arrive at an increasingly accurate figure.

Jacinta: So, sticking with our teacher, velocity is an equation that describes change in position, acceleration describes change in velocity. Velocity is thus the derivative of position and acceleration is the derivative of velocity. This is expressed in writing, using, for example, the power rule, expressed using variables and their numbered exponents. So x = t² is an equation that works here. To calculate the derivative, you take the exponent, 2, and put it in front of the variable, and subtract 1 from the exponent, and that’s the derivative, 2t. In full, the derivative of x = t² is 2t.

Canto: That’s a trick, as Dr Somara said, but it’s not really explained. She says ‘no matter how [you’re accelerating], your velocity will be 2t – double the number of seconds’. So I think it depends on those seconds. After 5 seconds, say, you’re travelling at 5m/sec, but after 20 secs, your speed is 40m/sec. So dx/dt = 2t ‘which is just a way of saying, mathematically, we’re taking the derivative of x with respect to t’. But it’s also written differently sometimes: if f(t) = t², then f'(t) = 2t. And I’m guessing that f stands for function, but I don’t quite know what a function is.

Jacinta: A function is:

in mathematics, an expression, rule, or law that defines a relationship between one variable (the independent variable) and another variable (the dependent variable). Functions are ubiquitous in mathematics and are essential for formulating physical relationships in the sciences.

That’s from Britannica online. So to continue, if f(t) = t², then f'(t) = 2t. That’s to say, f prime (t) = 2t, according to our teacher, who doesn’t explain ‘prime’. Do we have to do a maths course before we do this physics course? Does it have to do with prime numbers?

Canto: Apparently not. The symbol can serve a number of purposes in maths. Let’s just leave it for now. Using the power rule we can find other derivatives, e.g. x = 7t to-the-power-6. This equation has the variable t, and its exponent 6. We take the exponent and put it in front of the 7t variable, multiplying the number and subtracting 1 from the exponent, 42t to-the power 5. That’s to say dx/dt = 42(t to the power of 5). But maybe that shouldn’t be bracketed. And when the exponent is a fraction or decimal, the derivative of, say t to the power of one half is 1/2t to the negative one half. You always minus one, I don’t know why.

Jacinta: Ours is clearly not to reason why, at least not yet. This derivative trick works for negatives too. In the case of x = t to-minus-2, the derivative (dx/dt) = -2t to minus 3. Not very comprehensible, and then she mentions the dread word, trigonometry, used for calculating triangles, their angles and sides. Apparently physics uses right-angled triangles a lot. We shall see.

Canto: Indeed, let’s get into it. The derivatives of sine x and cosine x. If you have a right-angled triangle with an adjacent angle x, sin(x) = the length of the opposite side divided by the hypotenuse. For cosine, cos(x) it’s the length of the adjacent side divided by the hypotenuse. So, sin(x) = o/h, cos(x) = a/h. ‘So the graphs will tell you what those ratios will be, depending on the angle’.

Jacinta: I’m not sure if I really understand this, but let’s move on into further weird territory, in which sin(x) is plotted on a graph going from -360° to 360° on the x (horizontal) axis (that’s the ‘phase’, in degrees) and -1 to 1 on the y axis. At x = -90° and x = 90° the curve turns – that’s at every 180°. At those points the equations aren’t changing and the derivative is zero. Between the points the derivative oscillates from positive to negative. That derivative is in fact cos(x). I’m not sure why, but the derivative of cos(x) is -sin(x), the derivative of -sin(x) is -cos(x) and the derivative of -cos(x) is sin(x), for future reference. I’m hoping it’ll all become clear some day. Graphing all these will provide the proofs, evidently.

Canto: Yes, so Dr Somara finishes off this vid with another derivative that’s important in calculus, e×, the derivative of which is also e×, always. e, like π, is an irrational number which is quite vital to calculus, apparently. And even finance. Can’t wait to find out. So with the preceding we can, supposedly, take any equation for position and calculate the derivative, and so, velocity. And for velocity, your acceleration. Using integrals, which we’ll soon learn about, we can go backwards from acceleration to velocity, and from velocity to position. Presumably that will be next time.

Jacinta: So easy…



Written by stewart henderson

September 14, 2022 at 8:05 am

an interminable conversation 5: the RET, Mike Cannon-Brookes, and Big Gas issues

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Jacinta: So I’ve heard of this thing called the Renewable Energy Target (RET) – in fact I first heard about it years ago but I’ve paid little attention. Tell me more.

Canto: There’s a government website, the Clean Energy Regulator site, which purports to explain everything. Here’s the briefest statement about it:

The Renewable Energy Target is an Australian Government scheme designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector and encourage the additional generation of electricity from sustainable and renewable sources.

Of course they have much more to say, in positive-speak, about it all, but a wee footnote at the bottom caught my attention:

In June 2015, the Australian Parliament passed the  Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015. As part of the amendment bill, the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target was reduced from 41 000 GWh to 33 000 GWh in 2020 with interim and post-2020 targets adjusted accordingly.

I believe the ultra-conservative Tony Abbott was PM in 2015, and the Fossils were calling the shots, as Marian Wilkinson’s The Carbon Club relates. Anyway, it’s a certificate system based on megawatt hours of power generated, and the rather pathetic target was apparently reached, based on approvals of large solar and wind installations, in the second half of 2019.

Jacinta: That’s something perhaps, but the IPCC wasn’t particularly impressed. The Clean Energy Council’s website, Ecogeneration, has boosted the achievement, describing the RET as ‘the most successful emissions reduction policy of all time for Australia’s electricity system’. But it hasn’t had any competition! And ominously, Kane Thornton, CEO of the Clean Energy Council, is quoted as saying ‘the industry doesn’t need new subsidies, we just need certainty’, etc etc, which contradicts everything I’ve heard from Saul Griffith, Mike Cannon-Brookes and others… we’ve been subsidising the fossil fuel industry forever, haven’t we? It’s rebuilding our manufacturing base that needs subsidising. Renewable energy has already become the cheaper option, but we have no EV manufacturing here and only one PV manufacturer.

Canto: Interesting Mike Cannon-Brookes interview in the Financial Review, which introduces the term ESG to me. This stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, perhaps in that order, as factors to be considered in any investment. Which all sounds v positive. And he’s very positive about ESG, which is a positive thing.

Jacinta: Yeah, apparently he’s a billionaire. How the fuck do people become billionaires? Why is it ever allowed?

Canto: Yeah, obviously it’s not just about working hard, like the Congolese in the diamond mines, and various slave populations over the centuries, whose only reward was death. Nature just ain’t fair. Herr Cannon-Brookes is co-founder of a company called Atlassian, which I’ve never heard of. Nor have I heard of their major products, such as Jiro and Trello, which are used by ‘teams’, but I don’t think they play soccer.

Jacinta: Sounds like they’re in the business of business, which is certainly none of our business.

Canto: Yeah, it’s probably all about digital environments. We’re about 40 years out of date. We need to stop reading books, paper is so 20th century.

Jacinta: Anyway, getting back to renewable energy …

Canto: Well this interview with Cannon-Brookes, he sounds pretty sincere, for a billionaire. They’re just people I suppose. If a bit weird. He’s very positive about renewables, and running his business that way, and pretty honest about the issues – like offloading the problem onto others, as he admits to having done, and facing that issue squarely. You know, like Australia exports coal and gas, and doesn’t take responsibility for the emissions. Like Norway.

Jacinta: They don’t have to take responsibility, the way the current system works. Apparently, as of July 2020, Australia became the world’s biggest gas (LNG) exporter, overtaking Qatar. That’s from the Climate Council. It’s hard to keep track of all these organisations. Anyway, Australia was exporting about 80 million tonnes of LNG per year two years ago. According to the latest, it was 77.7 MT (in 20-21 financial year). The article said it has ‘retained its crown’ as the world’s largest exporter. Shouldn’t that be a dunce’s cap?

Canto: So many people are late in getting with the program. By the way, China has taken over from Japan as our number one LNG buyer – adding to our problems with that fascist government. In any case the argument would be – and I’ve heard it stated in a public forum – that we owe our wealth as a nation to these exports, and by extension, to our trading relation with China. .

Jacinta: Well, it’s interesting that the price of gas is rising domestically. Presumably this has something to do with so much of our gas going offshore? And renewables, though growing, are hardly ready to fill the domestic energy gap, right?

Canto: So this is all new stuff to get my head around, but a ‘Bloomberg Green’ video linked below has it that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has produced an interim gas report, a forecast for 2023. It predicts that the supply of gas for next year will fall short of demand by about 56 petajoules – 3% of total demand. This doesn’t sound like much, but with rising gas prices… Anyway the ACCC is recommending that the federal government bring into force the ‘Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism’, pressuring LNG exporters to reserve some of those earmarked exports (70 to 75 percent of production) for the domestic market. Now, some 11% of those exports aren’t covered by long-term contracts – they’re available for those as bids for them, and there might be a few countries bidding, considering the global situation.

Jacinta: Hmmm, sounds like a seller’s market, with impoverished buyers, including domestic ones. So the idea is that the government can intervene to force gas exporters to sell some of their stuff here, with reduced profits?

Canto: Yes, but whether they do is a question. The video goes on to talk about Australia’s new emissions reduction target of 43% on 2005 levels by 2030, with the aim of net zero emissions by 2050. Interestingly, the Bloomberg economist says that while it’s good news to get clear targets after years of nothing much, the targets are still a bit weak. Most notably, only 3% of passenger vehicles sold last year were EVs, and with no manufacturing here in the foreseeable future, the chances of EVs reaching 89% of sales by 2030 – Labor’s target – are surely minuscule.

Jacinta: Yes, but all the other cars purchases would be overseas-made vehicles, wouldn’t they?

Canto: Hmmm, so there might have to be legislation to favour EV imports, as well as plenty of infrastructure… And a turnaround in public attitudes, which I don’t presently see.

Jacinta: Returning to gas, the Australia Institute, which appears to be a left-leaning public policy think tank, has a critique of our gas exporters in another, very brief, video. It just advises turning our backs on gas tout de suite. Forget reserving gas for the domestic market – which might involve something more or less in the form of a bribe to the exporters. Instead, electrify everything, of course. More pronto than pronto, to make up for a lost decade of relative inaction. They describe it as a gas export crisis, in which domestic prices are soaring because so much of our gas is going offshore. A win-win for the gas companies.

Canto: So, is this the situation? Gas companies are in the business of profit. They sell gas overseas, even at the expense of the domestic market, because they can, because they’re owned by private individuals, they can sell to the highest bidder. And If this means gas is scarce domestically, and in high demand, because we’ve become dependent on gas, we haven’t been weaned off it, the gas companies can make another killing on the domestic market? They’re holding us to ransom, so to speak?

Jacinta: Oil and gas companies in the US as well as in Australia are making huge profits currently, due to scarcities caused by war, embargoes and such…

Canto: The Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism was designed to ensure sufficient domestic supply, but it’s not very efficient, and the domestic supply target is too low. Some state governments, notably Western Australia, have a higher domestic reserve, but of course what we need is to switch to renewable-based electric as quickly as possible, to get out from under the control of the fossil fuel barons.

Jacinta: Are gas companies subsidised here?

Canto: Do koalas shit in the trees? Renew Economy has a scathing article about this, posted today. It describes companies like Santos recording super-massive-record profits this year, and the term ‘war profiteering’ is mentioned. This has also been at the expense of the domestic market. Here’s a quote:

Santos categorically stated its project would not affect the domestic market because it would not buy gas out of the domestic market. But that is exactly what it has done. Santos bought large volumes of gas out of the domestic market in the first half of 2022, forcing domestic prices above export prices in the last six months. These actions have generated super profits, gouged from domestic gas consumer and forcing up domestic electricity prices to unaffordable levels. Santos has broken its approval conditions and IEEFA calls on the government to cancel their export licence.

The IEEFA, for our info, is the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Bruce Robertson, who wrote the Renew Economy article, has a similar piece on the IEEFA website. The thing is, the domestic reserve could be raised, and made non-negotiable (it isn’t at present) without having much of an effect on these windfall profits. As it is, gas companies are largely ignoring existing reserve requirements. The ACCC has the capacity to prosecute but apparently has no intention of doing so. They’re also doing nothing to tackle these companies’ collusion re price-fixing and tax avoidance. There’s something rotten about all this. Clearly we’re not going to wean ourselves from gas as quickly as we should, but we certainly shouldn’t be pumping up and sending off ever more of the stuff.

Jacinta: Well, yes, considering that the aim is to electrify everything, and people are starting to get on board with this, that means no new gas fields, so what are these companies going to do with these massive extra profits, other than line the pockets of CEOs and their immediate underlings?

Canto: Well, there will still be offshore markets for the foreseeable, so keep on despairing. Two months ago, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an opinion piece by Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute, arguing for a ‘windfall profit tax’ considering that some importers are paying ‘more than four and up to 10 times the contract prices’. The Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, isn’t interested. And so the rich get richer, for the time being….


Marian Wilkinson, The Carbon Club, 2020

RET reached ahead of 2020 target

What the frack? Australia overtakes Qatar as world’s largest gas exporter

Santos windfall: Australia is swimming in subsidised gas and we’re giving it away



Written by stewart henderson

August 17, 2022 at 11:16 pm

the ACCC, coal, renewables, arguments, and the future

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Well as I watch my readership reduce to almost zero in its usual ups and downs I wonder whether to write just for myself or to attract a readership, so I’ll just go ahead and write, but I was amused to listen to Senator Matt Canavan, our Minister for Resources and a member of the Nationals, responding to the ACCC’s recommendations for bringing energy prices down. At one point he remarked ‘who cares where we get our fuel from?’, and compared the different fuel varieties to different types of ice-cream in a sweet shop. Presumably he was referring to encouraging an energy mix, but for someone who presumably knows something about resources, since he holds that portfolio (though that’s hardly ever proof of expertise in government), it struck me as bizarre. Who cares where we get our fuel from or what type it is? The Chinese government cares, for one. It has worked hard in recent years to combat pollution in Beijing, largely  in response to adverse publicity. China’s capital, ranked as the fifth most polluted city in China in 2011, has since dropped out of the top twenty, largely due to the adoption of cleaner, greener energy and technology. Unfortunately, many other cities in China’s highly populated and industrialised north-western region still suffer from an environment which has reduced life expectancy there by some 5.5 years, according to a joint study by Chinese and American university teams in 2013. This sadly suggests that the Chinese government appears to be more concerned with its international image than with protecting its own citizens from hazardous emissions. On the bright side, Beijing’s improvement indicates what can be done to improve environments when governments and industry get their act together.

Just as oils aint oils, fuels aren’t just fuels. Remember kerosene? I remember huddling over a kerosene heater in the seventies, along with student housemates. But in other parts, kero isn’t a past-tense energy source. In many of the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, it’s used for lighting, even though it’s toxic, causes frequent burns and fires, and produces inferior light. It has proved difficult to wean consumers from kerosene in these countries, even though there are potentially cheaper options available. There’s an interesting article about the problems and possible solutions here.

But really, since energy generation (i.e. using x,y, or z as fuel) is the number one cause of air pollution and global warming emissions, it’s not like comparing caramel praline with black raspberry crunch. Coal is of course the worst in terms of emissions. As of 2016, some 44% of US electricity comes from coal, but it accounts for 80% of that country’s power plant carbon emissions. Australia has great reserves of coal, but it exports much of it to China and, more recently, South-East Asia. In fact Australia has experienced a recent boom in coal exports, earning a record $56.5 billion in 2017. Unsurprisingly many conservative pollies are clamouring for more coal mines and more local use of the resource as a solution to our seemingly ever-rising energy costs. Maybe we too can pull out of the Paris Agreement? Of course, our massive coal exports do tend to undermine that agreement, while the government can congratulate itself on keeping domestic use within more or less acceptable limits (see graph above). Currently, we’re the largest coal exporter and the third largest exporter of carbon pollution in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. But of course it’s not our fault that other countries want to pollute with our resources, is it? We just take the money and keep our country clean (as do Norway, Denmark and Indonesia).

So considering our dubious status in terms of global emissions (but, as many experts point out, it’s a little arrogant to expect developing and transitioning countries like China, our biggest coal customer, to rapidly abandon a fuel that the developed world has used for so long, thereby gaining ascendancy), it’s interesting to note that AGL, Australia’s largest owner of coal fired power stations and biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is continuing its push away from coal in spite of government pressure. Of course the government itself is divided on this, with Turnbull and Frydenberg largely at odds with the Nationals on the question of transition, but looking into the future, it seems inevitable that demand for coal will decline – the only question is the rate of that decline, which of course depends on how quickly other nations move away from coal. All of those nations have signed the Paris Agreement. Already, coal ports such as Newcastle, and Australia’s mining regions, are looking to diversify, and energy experts are debating the pursuance of a coal tax to support the industry as it transitions.

But Canavan and the Nationals are having none of this. They point to the above-mentioned boom and a currently accelerating demand, though Canavan is realistic enough to admit that future forecasts are reliably unreliable. Much will depend on cost declines and advancing technology in renewables, as well as various political scenarios.

Naturally the renewable energy sector is looking critically at what one of its experts calls the ‘series of scattershot proposals’ by the ACCC on reducing our electricity costs. The ACCC’s recommendation that the small-scale renewable energy scheme (SRES), a subsidy which mainly applies to rooftop solar, should be wound down, is seen as unfair if not counter-productive by the sector. The SRES is already slated to be wound down by 2030, and its earlier abolition (by 2021, according to ACCC recommendations) would mainly affect low-income and rental householders. There’s currently a new boom in rooftop solar, with rising energy costs being the main cause. So penalising future adopters of rooftop solar seems an odd way to reduce the problems they’re adopting solar to avoid. As to the possibility of new gas- or coal-fired power plants, a dream of the Nationals and renegade ultra-conservative Tony Abbott, that’s unlikely, considering changing public attitudes and the reasonable likelihood of a change of federal government by next year. The good thing about the ACCC’s analysis is that the behaviour of retailers, and the phenomenon of price gouging, have finally been criticised, and the idea of states writing down the value of their networks has been floated. Consumers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of extra energy infrastructure and errors in predicting future energy demand.

There have been many interesting responses to the report, to say the least. Danny Price, a leading analyst of the national energy market over three decades, regards the report as overly political in that it shies away from criticising the lack of a much-needed bipartisan approach to energy policy. Confusion and ideological squabbling over carbon pricing – the disastrous scrapping by the Abbott government of a carefully formulated carbon tax being the low point – has been a disincentive to major investment, and banks here are refusing to finance new coal-fired power stations, which would only be built via massive government subsidies. Consequently we’ve seen an upsurge in interest in renewables from consumers and business, which also reflects worldwide growth, with major oil companies like BP joining the fray.

Of course the problem of reliable back-up power remains, and analyst Ian Verrender has criticised the ACCC report for omitting his best solution – gas. Gas turbines are more flexible than coal generators as well as producing fewer emissions. Australia is a major exporter of gas, but our companies have been providing little for domestic consumption, a situation which was only partly remedied by recent federal intervention. Yet the Nationals are more interested in coal than gas, in spite of its many problems, and its inefficiencies in providing precise back-up supply. Gas, hydro and batteries are far more efficient in this respect.

A recent study by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has also backed renewables (though apparently the current federal government isn’t listening). It has released its Integrated Systems Plan, reported on here by Giles Parkinson:

Based on its “neutral” scenario, which comprises existing federal and state government policies, the lowest cost replacement [for retiring coal-fired suppliers] will be solar (28GW), wind (10.5GW) and storage (17GW and 90GWh). Just 500MW of flexible gas plant will be needed, and no new coal. It says this portfolio in total can produce 90TWh (net) of energy per annum, more than offsetting the energy lost from retiring coal fired generation.

AEMO has also highlighted the need for new transmission infrastructure, as transformative and disruptive energy developments continue around the country. The need for forward planning should be obvious and governments – especially the federal government – ignore this at their peril. A change of federal government may be the answer, but only if the incoming government has a thorough-going plan to integrate and manage this clear and obvious national move away from fossil fuels. Such plans are already being drawn up – we just need the will, and some bipartisan support, to implement them.





Written by stewart henderson

July 17, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Posted in ACCC, gas

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