Can we replace Hazelwood with clean energy now?

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I received an interesting flyer in the mail yesterday. It was titled:

Replace Hazelwood with Clean Energy Now.

The flyer does not make it clear what clean energy we are meant to use. However, I doubt that the supporters of the campaign mean hydro, nuclear or gas-fired plant. I suspect they would be referring to wind generation. So let’s ask a simple question: can we replace Hazelwood with wind energy now?

Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley has a capacity of 1600 MW. It has long been one of Australia’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants and probably should be replaced if Australia is serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

To replace the name-plate capacity of Hazelwood would require a windfarm or a series of wind farms that would in total be about one-and-one-half times the largest wind farm in the world. This is doable. After all Victoria has a large amount of coastline and we can fill the rolling hills of Gippsland with wind turbines if we choose to. The environmental amenity would be severely damaged but it would reduce carbon emissions.

However, this is simply nameplate capacity. We need to take into account availability. Coal’s load factor (roughly, how much power you can get out relative to name-plate capacity) is around 65 to 85% according to this website (which is pro-wind power). Wind has a load-factor of  25 to 40% according to the same website. This sounds like a generous load factor for wind, but let’s go with it. The implication is easy. To replace Hazelwood we need approximately twice the nameplate capacity of wind generation.

In other words to replace Hazelwood Power Station with wind we would need a windfarm or set of wind farms that in total are three times the size of the largest wind farm in the world. Again this is doable, but I suspect we would lose either a few of our coastal national parks or a big chunk of Australia’s most productive dairy country.

However the problem doesn’t end there. Load factors give an indication of output. But they do not give an indication of flexibility. Wind may give some power a lot of the time but it cannot be geared up down according to the needs of the electricity system. So in summer in Victoria almost all coal generation will be available. The system operator does not allow generators to undertake routine maintenance in periods when the demand for electricity is expected to be high. In contrast the system operator cannot tell the wind to blow harder. So if Hazelwood is replaced by wind generation and demand is high during Melbourne’s winter or summer peaks, but the wind is not blowing, then the lights, the air conditioners, the hot water and so on will stop – at least in the areas the system operator blacks-out.

This may not be a problem, at least to those who do not mind having their lights and heat go off in winter or the air conditioning go off in summer. However I suspect it would be an environmental disaster. Many people’s immediate reaction to a lack of reliability of the power supply will be to get insurance. The simplest insurance for failure of electricity is to have your own generation. So replacing Hazelwood with wind would almost certainly lead to a massive increase in the number of households with back up diesel generation. Of course this generation, in terms of carbon emissions, is a disaster.

Of course it is unlikely to get to that. Any state government that allowed power to regularly fail on either hot summers days or cold winters nights would not be the government for very long. Politically it will not happen. The government will insure the electricity system by building more generation capacity that could be reliably called on at short notice. In other words the wind capacity would be augmented by substantial gas fired generation capacity.

So could we replace Hazelwood with wind? Yes, but it would require wind generation that is 3 times the capacity of the world’s largest wind farm, and it would probably require another 800 MW or so of backup gas-fired generation. And in terms of amenity, it would be an environmental disaster.

11 Responses to "Can we replace Hazelwood with clean energy now?"
  1. Stephen

    I think this is unduly pessimistic. I have recently completed a study of wind generation in South Australia where wind meets more than 27% of the South Australian electricity production that is dispatched through the NEM, and I found that there was no meaningful change in the required level of reserves on the system needed to ensure a stable operating system.

    I’ll send the paper to you.

    Regards, Bruce.

  2. I’m not sure why you say that dairy country used for wind generation would be unavailable for dairy cattle – the nice thing about wind turbines is that you can place them on farmland without materially affecting the farming productivity of the land. (There’s no reason why the dairy cattle can’t wander around a field dotted with turbines).

  3. Why do you restrict your analysis to just wind power, Stephen? Solar power is just as clean as wind, and any serious modelling of large-scale clean energy solutions looks at combinations of generator types.

    For example, a recent paper by Elliston, Diesendorf, and MacGill (1) models 100% renewable energy for the NEM consisting of 30% wind (average capacity factor 30%), 10% solar PV (avg. 16% capacity), 40% concentrated solar thermal with storage (avg. 60%), with the rest hydro and gas.

    Those factors would obviously change if you were just considering Victoria, but my point is that replacing Hazelwood with a single renewable energy technology is somewhat of a straw man argument. The combination of wind with solar PV and CST (and gas) is much more realistic (even if I do not pretend that it’s unproblematic).

    (1) ‘Simulations of scenarios with 100% renewable electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market’, Energy Policy 45, p. 606-613, available at http://ceem.unsw.edu.au/content/LargeScaleRenewableEnergy.cfm?ss=1

  4. Replacing Hazleton with wind means about three thousand 2megawatt wind turbines, linked to battery storage. I don’t see that happening unless one wishes to fill the whole of Victoria with one turbines. Solar thermal is probably the better and more reliable renewable energy source.

  5. Factor in also, Stephen, that the back-up generators are likely to only be called upon for very short amounts of time each year. Like a few hours on a few really hot days.

    AEMO data shows that, for all but about 17 hours a year (or something like that), around 20% of network capacity in Victoria is sitting idle. So if the option is to replace Hazelwood with only wind for 364 days a year, and have gas take care of the remaining day or so, that sounds like a win to me.

    Regarding loss of “environmental amenity”, I suspect you really mean “visual amenity”. And this is (a) very subjective – I happen to think a landscape full of wind turbines is a sign of progress, not vandalism; and (b) a position common amongst those who do not live near, or down-wind of, coal-fired power stations.

    And of course your calculus does not take account of the possible benefits of the shift to renewables. Sure others would need to follow suit, but I for one think “the Lucky Country” has a bit of an obligation to lead the way on this.

    I fear you are correct, however, when you say this is not going to happen. Can we start etching “political reality” on the tombstone of humanity?

    cheers.

  6. Realistic peak electricity pricing will see a reduction in peak demand. I for one am heartily sick of subsidising people with air-conditioning on hot days. This is one where the rich live it up at the expense of the poor. If you price a resource below it’s cost and let the free riders ride, you will end up with poor resource use and massive wastage as there is in electricity usage. We don’t need the generating capacity we currently have if you used it a little wiser.

  7. Thankyou Stephen King for keeping this issue in front of mind. Unfortunately the pat responses are too shallow to do the subject justice.

    What Hazelwood Power Station Closers should do is look at the counterfactual. E.g. what are the arguments for keeping it going? They are very strong indeed. Unbiased analysis of this sort is what we need on public policy.

    After reading this article I found this – Replacing Hazelwood Power Station – Critique of Environment Victoria report. By Peter Lang May 2010. It is worth a look.

    It is worth reading the information on the various federal government websites including the Garnaut report. They all show brown coal continuing to be about the same output in 2050. The only exception is a shoddy graph in Swan’s budget presentation showing brown coal being replaced by renewables. There are no references anywhere in the literature to support it. I suppose the Treasurer thought we would never check.

    All the literature points to the fact that brown coal generation will be going strong when the respondents’ grandchildren are in the workforce. The only way Hazelwood will be closed is if a new generation, more efficient brown coal fired power station replaces it. Besides it is more cost effective to keep renovating and improving Hazelwood.

  8. Hi Stephen,
    The flier you received was printed and distributed by Environment Victoria who I work for. Perhaps instead of writing an article on a series of false assumptions about what we might be proposing you should have researched what Environment Victoria has actually proposed. A quick web search would have revealed that we have actually demonstrated in significant detail how Hazelwood could be replaced. Have a look at this report we commisioned Green Energy Markets to do a couple of years ago: http://environmentvictoria.org.au/sites/default/files/Fast-tracking%20Victoria%27s%20clean%20energy%20future%20to%20replace%20Hazelwood.pdf
    Happy to debate our actual proposed solution on this, not your construction of our solution,
    Mark Wakeham
    Campaigns Director
    Environment Victoria

  9. Thanks Mark.

    The proposals that are outlined in the link are sensible – but not renewable. As I blogged, it was not clear from the flyer what ‘clean energy’ meant and, I suspect like many, I assumed you meant renewables.

    On your proposals, the first is two-thirds gas. The second is one-third gas, one-third renewables and one-third demand reduction. On the latter, I am well aware of the Climateworks report. Their analysis shows a negative marginal cost for some household and business activities (i.e. savings are more than cost). I have also been to conference presentations where business leaders have claimed to implement this approach with significant savings (interestingly not in Australia). So I am sympathetic to the prospect of business savings but skeptical about them actually occurring. The ClimateWorks report has been around for a while but there seems no great interest from business.

    So, your first option is sensible – although I am not sure why we wouldn’t go with almost 100% replacement with gas-fired combined-cycle plant. Indeed, I see gas generation as the obvious way forward for Victoria and the LaTrobe Valley.

  10. Thanks for look at our 2009 report “Fast-tracking Victoria’s clean energy future to replace Hazelwood power station” Stephen.

    If you look at pages 35 and 36 they show that scenario 1 (CCCGT and renewables) is 62% CCGT and 38% renewables, while scenario 2 is 40% gas, 38% RE and 22% energy efficiency.

    Gas could have played a larger role, but we wanted to minimise its use because of long lifetimes and still significant emissions- eg scenario 2 has emissions 0.8MT/annum lower than scenario 1. While this is less than 1% of Victoria’s current emissions, it is a much larger share of what our emissions will need to be in 30 or 40 years.

    Finally since 2009 a number of factors have changed that suggest that renewable energy could play a larger role in replacing Hazelwood, and that not all of the power station would actually need to be replaced if it closed.

    This is for 3 reasons:
    1) gas has increased significantly in price since 2009
    2) renewables continue to fall in price
    3) energy demand is falling dramatically eg see today’s Age: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/energy-use-set-to-fall-for-first-time-20120628-215fj.html or Mike Sandiford’s work from Melb Energy Instutute who has calculated that demand in the NEM is falling by 800 MW per year- see http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/06/06/power-prices-are-plunging-but-only-for-a-chosen-few/?wpmp_switcher=mobile

    Of course having the power available at the peaks is the key which is why our scenarios were designed the way they were. In Victoria at the moment we’re coping fine with Yallourn operating at about 10% capacity, though summer could be a different story.

    Nevertheless if we were to undertake this piece of work in 2012 I think we would find it is possible to use more renewables, less gas, deliver lower emissions and more jobs and we’d need to replace less of Hazelwood making the replacement easier.

    Now we just need to do it, which is why the Federal govt’s contracts for closure process is so important.

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