Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Losing control of affordable reliable power

By Geoff Carmody - posted Tuesday, 15 October 2019

We're in a brave new energy world. Until recently, intermittency in power supply was demand-driven. Demand peaks meant having pricey spare capacity on hand to meet them, to keep the lights on.

We still have those demand peaks: each day, week, and seasonally. But the supply side has changed. Once we controlled total supply. We had base-load power 24/7. We had 'peaker' power generation that we triggered when extra demand put more pressure on the grid. We had a very reliable, geographically huge, power grid (the NEM).

Not today. Existing base-load and 'peaker' generation is prematurely shutting down. New investment is discouraged. Subsidised growth in solar and wind generation is soaring. 'Pumped hydro' is hyped. Surging renewables are destroying economics of traditional supply.


The NEM is not alone. The Western Australian grid is suffering too.

Grid managers warn power transmission and distribution infrastructure increasingly can't cope, either. Anybody watching PocketNEM knows how frantically they are paddling just to keep the lights on right now. This summer looks ominous. Without expensive upgrade remedies, will the grid become a 'stranded asset'?

Why is this happening? The root cause is we're fast losing control of the supply side of the electricity market. Increasingly, it's the weather and seasons that control power supply, not us. Supply peaks no longer match demand peaks. Both are often out-of-phase.

Renewables can be thought of as 'peaker' generators, but beyond our control. So grid managers now have to contend with different peaks: both on the demand side, and for supply.

Reliability is under threat, as is grid stability, because both are being cut by the two 'blades' of our energy 'policy' scissors. Subsidies go to intermittent and unreliable renewables, and politics bans or cuts investment in alternatives. Increasing renewables supply reduces viable 'dispatchable' power supply.

How can we maintain the current reliability standard (99.998% reliability, or only 10.5 minutes of outages each year)?


There are two broad options. Neither is cheap.

The first is to duplicate any given renewables capacity with 'dispatchable' capacity. Given political constraints in Australia, that's coal (preferably as base-load) or gas (despite East Coast costs).

Reliable generation capacity with renewables therefore is about double demand requirements. How supply is actually delivered depends on the weather, the sun cycle, seasons – and drought.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

11 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Geoff Carmody is Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, a former co-founder of Access Economics, and before that was a senior officer in the Commonwealth Treasury. He favours a national consumption-based climate policy, preferably using a carbon tax to put a price on carbon. He has prepared papers entitled Effective climate change policy: the seven Cs. Paper #1: Some design principles for evaluating greenhouse gas abatement policies. Paper #2: Implementing design principles for effective climate change policy. Paper #3: ETS or carbon tax?

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Geoff Carmody

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 11 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy