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Renewables are cheap, reliable, clean. Hubris, hype or hope?

By Geoff Carmody - posted Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The Albanese Government has made several power promises.

(i) A 43% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2030, and zero net emissions by 2050.
(ii) Australian electricity 82% fuelled by renewables by 2030, (currently about 25%).
(iii) 'Keeping the lights on', excluding 'unexpected' supply outages.

We can control price or quantity, but not both, unless we have enough policy levers. For now, high fossil fuel prices, plus slowing growth, might help reduce GHGs a bit. How can both be delivered?


The Government says 'renewables'. Low emissions, relatively cheap. The physics says otherwise.

(i) Solar, wind and hydro are intermittent. Reliability standards are high (0.002% outages in the NEM).
(ii) Averaged over a year, solar provides power about 15% of the day, wind maybe 30%, and hydro depends on water.
(iii) Sunless, windless, or waterless periods often exceed one day
(iv) These intermittencies require multiplied generation capacity (over 3-7 times as much as fossil fuels).
(v) Plus multiplied storage capacity in manufactured batteries (over 2.5-6 times as much as fossil fuels).
(vi) Plus upgraded existing and new transmission capacity to get power from where generated to where needed.

The Energy Minister correctly says massive investments are needed in harvesting, transmitting and storing solar, wind and hydro energy for it to be a practical option for reliable 24/7 power. Doable by 2030 or even 2050? Cost?

To reduce emissions, GHGs from the entire supply chain (equipment production, power generation, transmission, storage, equipment disposal) must be included. Are these less than using existing fossil fuels? We should know the 'clean' answer up-front. Do we?

The immediate Australian focus is reliability and price of energy. The political focus on reducing GHGs should highlight the net cost of reducing Australian emissions, too. It hasn't. Why?

Many urge more renewables generation, transmission, and storage. Calls for less use of fossil-fuelled energy have already seen faster withdrawal than earlier planned. Total power supply has been falling relative to demand. We can't do much about overseas causes of this. But Australia's energy problems are partly own-goals.


We can fix these by reducing electricity demand or increasing supply. Global recession seems possible. That might deliver less power demand. More supply requires massive investments in renewables generation, transmission, and storage. Who pays? How?

Our energy own-goals reflect attempts to reduce our GHGs.

Australia constitutes a small percentage of global GHGs (1.1%-1.2% and falling). We should make a similarly proportionate contribution to cutting them. Others should, too. A global effort is essential to have global effects.

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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?

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

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