Colossal costs to convert Australia to 100% renewable energy – and could it work then ?

HT to Val Majkus.
The paper “Simulations of Scenarios with 100% Renewable Electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market” by Elliston et al. (2011a) (henceforth EDM-2011) has been analyzed by Engineer Peter Lang in his paper, “Renewable electricity for Australia – the cost”. Peter Lang is a retired geologist and engineer with 40 years experience on many types of energy projects throughout the world.

For the EDM-2011 baseline simulation, and using costs derived for the Federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET, 2011b), the costs are estimated to be: $568 billion capital cost, $336/MWh cost of electricity and $290/tonne CO2 abatement cost. That is, the wholesale cost of electricity for the simulated system would be SEVEN times more than now, with an abatement cost that is THIRTEEN times the starting price of the Australian carbon tax and THIRTY times the European carbon price. (This cost of electricity does not include costs for the existing electricity network). Peter has provided an Excel spreadsheet of calculations – which readers can use to do their own analysis.

This proposition to provide 100% Renewable Electricity for Australia is very expensive pie in the sky IMHO – typical of the GreenLeft – and on current technologies could not deliver stable grid power as we now know it.
So – if you want brown outs, black outs and more expensive electricity, Vote Green.
– if you particularly want more expensive peak hour electricity, Vote Green.
– if you want to be getting up in the middle of the night when you might be able to afford to run appliances, Vote Green.
– if you will enjoy owning a portable engine driven Electricity Generator, Vote Green.
– if you will enjoy the sound and smell of portable engine driven Electricity Generators all over your suburb, Vote Green.
– if you are mechanically handy and will enjoy rigging up a household wind powered generator and like the idea of paying for that plus banks of large and heavy batteries, then paying for their upkeep and replacement, Vote Green.
– the Elliston et al plan requires an increase of wind farms by a factor of 16.8 times – so if you like the idea of that – vote Green.
Readers might suggest other reasons to vote Green.

37 thoughts on “Colossal costs to convert Australia to 100% renewable energy – and could it work then ?”

  1. Hi Warwick,

    Thank you for publishing this post and for making my critique and cost estimates available to your readers.

    I would be happy to answer any questions.

    I also have an Excel file which I could provide. If you wanted to you could post it on line and your readers could down load it to adjust the inputs and run sensitivity analyses themselves.

  2. This is something that many people in la la land will refuse to see and read as they expect the government will simply pluck money from the money tree to make it happen. Only when reality hits will the la la people actually admit to its failure.
    You can see simply by business not investing in the Moree Solar Project (where the government will match dollars for those wishing to investment) alone that they already realize that they will lose their money. Business already understand the technology is not here yet. Only when projects that are 100% funded by the government will proceed and when it goes bust the companies involved will not really care as they would already have made their money.Just look at projects here and internationally that have failed with huge government money to prove the point. Even Mr Flannerys geothermal project when bust with $millions of taxpayer funds thrown at it (though he was rewarded quite handsomely for this.

  3. I notice under this scheme that gas turbines are 28% of the proposed mix of generating capacity (and over 50% of the capacity necessary to meet the anticipated demand). Given the mix I expect that in real life they wouldn’t have much downtime.

    So if we do a survey of the Greens asking
    1. are gas turbines necessary for any attempt to reduce emissions.
    2. Will gas turbines run without emitting CO2

    will we get 97% agreement?

  4. I think they specified biofuels for the gas turbines – I have not done any checks on what extra quantities that would assume.

  5. WSH,
    You are correct. Elliston et al. assume gas turbines running on bio fuels. I’ve made some estimates in the critique about what would be involved to provide the biomass for a reliable electricity supply (in good years). It’s all in the critique.

    Graeme Inkster,

    I notice under this scheme that gas turbines are 28% of the proposed mix of generating capacity (and over 50% of the capacity necessary to meet the anticipated demand).

    I am not sure where the 28% and 50% figures came from. The Elliston et al. baseline simulation is with 24 GW of generating capacity running at 13% capacity factor on average. But almost all of that is in winter. 24 GW is about 75% of peak winter demand.

  6. Sorry,
    I should have read it more closely.
    The report calls for a total generating capacity of 84.5 GW, and gas turbines at 24 GW is the 28% figure.
    The 50% was a guess of the amount to be made up at peak demand after the likely contribution of renewables to the supply.

    I didn’t spend much time on that report (and certainly not what you spent) and assumed that it was more wishful thinking than a practical idea, when I came across “The entire region is currently treated as a “copper-plate”; that is, power can flow unconstrained from any generation site to any demand site” and …

    “Wind energy serves about 30% of total energy demand at an overall capacity factor of 30%”. (why would Australia be the world record holder for capacity factor?)

    Both assumptions struck me as unjustified and not based on reality. Also, I thought a pumped storage return of 80% unlikely.

    You completely and comprehensively demolish this paper. I fully agree with you.

    I notice jibes in the press in Europe during the current freezing weather “Why don’t we sell our wind power (UK) to make up for the gas shortfall (France)” and equivalents in Germany. Firstly, the wind turbines don’t (and aren’t allowed to) work in freezing weather. Secondly, the power lines from France to the UK are running at capacity bringing French nuclear power to the UK.

    The Germans are effected by the Russians not maintaining a sufficient level of gas supply (for the fifth winter running) so France needs power. The Germans have restarted 5 of the 8 nuclear power stations they shut down (for political reasons) last year, with others possible. The German public are now hearing that the big wind farms in the Baltic sea aren’t able to send much of the (peak) power to the industrial heartland, (because of insufficient power line capacity) but it has to be used up north. The Poles are refusing to disrupt their coal fired production to accommodate this, so it is likely to go into Norwegian and Swedish pumped storage. I believe the Norwegians buy excess Danish wind power at $22 a MWh and sell it back at $89. The Norwegian finances are in great shape.

  7. It sounds a bit like trying to harness 1000 cats to your plough instead of one or two horses in order to plough your paddock. What’s more I suspect this 100% renewable electricity supply network would have about the same controlability and reliability as your cat drawn plough.

    Good work Peter for exposing this nonsense for what it is!

  8. Bob that’s a really funny comment – before you said that I never thought of cats having pulling power and don’t know if 1,000 would compute to the power of two or even one horse
    But you’re right, harnessing that power would be a problem and then getting it to go in the one direction would be another one

    I wondered this week where Julie Gillard got that figure of 700,000 which she told Chris Uhlmann about in 7.30 this week ‘We’ve created 700,000 new jobs’ but Judith Sloan put me right

    the figure is correct. Take seasonally adjusted number of employed persons. December 2011, the number was 11.4213 million. Four years previously, the number was 10.7262. (ABS, The Labour Force)

    Of course, the WE HAVE CREATED bit is not correct.

    I haven’t yet fully comprehended Peter’s report but will post a layman’s comment on it hopefully tonight – thanks Peter for all that work – but I have to confess like Prof Mann I can’t use Excel

  9. Wide spread dust storm. I wonder how long it would take to recommission all those solar generators and wind turbines? A nation on it’s knees.

  10. Lots of jobs in the new “clean economy” Val. Like changing the gear box oil on 15,000 windmills, or cleaning and polishing the reflectors on 50,000 solar concentrators or cleaning 2,000,000 PV panels. All necessary and frequent maintenance jobs if these anachronistic machines are to operate at anything like their rated output.
    Or to extend the cat analogy I guess you could think of it as feeding your 1,000 cats and cleaning their toilets.

  11. For readers who are not familiar with Australian dust storms, Jennifer Marohasy has a post on her blog from September 23, 2009. A severe dust storm had covered much of Eastern Australia. Jennifer has a photo of the windscreen of her mother’s car after it was raining mud and an interesting comments on some history of dust and sand storms in Australia.
    There are some satellite images showing the extent of this storm posted by Anthony Watts.

  12. Thanks for the many interesting and informative comments.

    John Bromhead – the dust storms issue for solar thermal is interesting.

    How long would it take to clean the reflectors after such a storm?

    Where would the workers live while cleaning is in progress?

    How long would it take to get them to and from their accommodation to the work sites each day?

    How many accidents would be involved with the cleaning?

    By how much would the solar power stations’ output be curtailed?

    How much over build (excess capacity) would we need to ensure we had sufficient output to meet demand at all times?

    What would be the total cost of cleaning?

  13. Graeme Inkster

    Now I understand where you got the figures. Just for interest, the 84.5 GW of generating capacity with renewable energy is due to the generators being so unreliable. The existing NEM has 49 GW of capacity and that is much higher than is probably necessary. We’d normally expect, with systems comprised of reliable generating technologies like fossil fuel, hydro and nuclear, the total capacity would be around 20% higher than the peak demand. The peak demand in the NEM is around 35 GW, so we’d need 42 GW – but that would be if we had a modern, efficient grid with all the generators sited in the optimum locations. Of course, that is impossible. It is also impossible to totally replace all the old generators with new, modern ones. So we need higher capacity reserve, than is theoretically justified.

    But 84.5 GW? That’s ridiculous!! Who wants to pay for that?

    And even 84.5 GW is not sufficiently to provide a reliable power supply, as the EDM simulations clearly show. And that is not even considering dust storms and Sun activity which has demonstrated its ability to take out whole power systems if they contain long transmissions lines, especially DC transmission lines.

  14. Peter Lang,
    the cleaning issue is not only with solar thermal mirrors. Some or a good part of the 14.6GW of photovoltaic capacity would also be affected. How many people doing a Molly Meldrum off a ladder?
    The fact that these academics talk about including such a massive amount of distributed PV is indicative of their “Greens” ideology. This will also require a massive re-engineering of electricity grids in cities. Copper-plating down to the neighbourhood.

  15. John Bromhead,

    Yes, I agree. BTW, I don’t know if you got right through the paper, but I have provided a crude estimate of the cost to upgrade the electricity distribution system to handle 14.6 GW of solar PV in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and SE Queensland. By the way, the 14.6 GW is 1 kW per person (man, woman and child). The basis of the cost estimate is presented in Appendix 2.

  16. don’t miss Piers Ackerman today

    The Gillard Labor-Green-independent minority government is pounding the nails into the Australian manufacturing industry’s coffin.

    The lid will be finally sealed on July 1 when the notorious carbon dioxide tax comes into effect.

    Those workers who have already lost their jobs or are about to be sent to the scrap heap should remember exactly who stood happily alongside Prime Minister Gillard as she watched the corpse of the manufacturing industry grow cold.

  17. Peter and others, and this is with respect to the dust storm cleanup process etc.

    I noticed something really odd at the site for the Moree Solar PV plant.

    Keep in mind that if a cloud flits across the face of the Sun, Solar PV loses almost two thirds of its generating capacity immediately, and then after the cloud passes, it takes time for the power to build back up.

    The same principle applies for anything covering the panel, like in the ay of dust etc, hence the panels need to be kept clean all the time, and by clean I mean absolutely pristine.

    Now, go to the Link I have Provided below, and it’s a pdf document of 120 pages.

    However, right near the top, in the introductory pages, scroll down to page xii and read the heading titled Water.

    They are only going to wash those panels twice a year.

    There’s 645,000 panels at ten panels to a table, hence 64,500 tables.

    Besides the incongruous nature of only being washed twice a year, that’s going to be an awful lot of work over an awful long time.

    And Peter, thanks for a wonderful document.


  18. Hi Tony,

    Thank you for another informative comment. I wonder if you would mind making a crude estimate of the cost of cleaning (per annum and per MWh) for two cases:

    1. on a routine basis and
    2. when a dust storm hits.

    You are familiar with that monster document and I am not. But any way, it would be good to have your estimate rather than more of mine.

  19. Peter,
    It’s a huge document, and nothing in it really gives an idea as to costings of that cleaning project, and what made me think of it was that I knew how much (any form of) Solar Power was degraded with anything blocking the full Sunlight, be it on the PV Panels or the mirrors, in the case of the many forms of Concentrating Solar.

    Note however right at the top of that document, the major partner is BP Solar.

    Along with the recent announcement that this Plant and The Chinchilla CS Plant have failed to obtain non Government funding, (which comes in at almost 45% of the $950 Million, that Government funding from the Federal and the NSW Government) there was also a separate announcement that BP Solar has pulled out of the Global Solar industry, because quote It is not profitable, end quote.

    Originally, when I did the analysis for that Plant, I scanned through the document looking for the relevant information that was of most importance, I saw that thing about their only cleaning them twice a year, and it puzzled me somewhat.

    As to costing, that document does not mention that, and where might you start?

    Will they just be hosing them down, or will they be going about in the correct manner and virtually polishing the panels.

    Effectively, they should then be dried and polished, but all I perceive is a quick blast with the hose.

    Failure to keep those panels in as pristine a state as possible will without any doubt considerably shorten the life of the panels.

    That’s not the main point however, but left uncleaned for virtually 5 months of every year will significantly lower the total output of the Plant.

    There’s 64,500 tables, each having 10 panels, so virtually, all you might do is to (roughly) calculate manhours involved, and say a minute or so to hose down each Table would take around 1075 manhours.

    That’s just the actual work itself, so walking from panel to panel and changing the hose every so often would probably double that time, 2150 manhours.

    Working ten hours a day 5 days a week, it would take around a week with a labor complement of 31 people.

    So, what might they paying per manhour, say $20 per hour, (flat rate no overtime, and hey, that’s a relatively low wage these days) hence $43,000, and then twice a year, $86,000. The labor could be sourced locally I suppose, but therein lies an additional cost added to the yearly bottom line.

    Now, as to cost per MWH, the plant will generate 404GWH per year, and keep in mind this is the theoretical maximum, a theoretical maximum that no PV Plant on Earth has yet attained in actual power delivery.

    So at that ballpark minimum of $86,000 PA, then that equates to around 22 cents per MWH, which sounds piddling to all you non electrically oriented people, but this is in fact a relatively considerable cost, and based on a theoretical maximum power output.

    Keep in mind that this is just ballpark, and realistically, that 31 man work force should be doing the task on a year round basis, in a similar manner to painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    Either way, that cost is not insignificant.


  20. Bear with me, it is relevant.
    The SEGS plant in California is the largest solar heat plant in the World. Actually it is 9 separate plants, totalling 354 MW capacity (but returning an average of 75MW, a Capacity Factor of 21%), the proposed tenth, eleventh and twelfth units weren’t built as the operator went out of business. NOTE 60% Capacity Factor is claimed in the above “computer model”.
    The area gets about 340 sunny days a year, so no prizes for guessing it is also dusty.
    It uses parabolic troughs to heat a working fluid. There are 936, 384 of them. They have to be kept gleaming clean. They were experimenting with an automatic sprayer which would run along each trough misting water; the troughs being turned to let the water drain off (with the dust).
    They claimed that this saved water as it would only take 1 litre per trough per week. I make that 48.7 megalitres of water per annum, or 92.6 Litres per minute.
    And in 2002 the oldest plant was reported as having an Operating and Maintenance cost of 4.6 cents per KWh. Coal is still cheaper.

  21. Graeme Inkster,

    Thank you for that information. That is really useful information. I’d like to add a bit.

    page 8-2 states the expected amount of water required for washing CST Parabolic Trough plants.

    The EDM-2011 simulations assume 15 hours storage. EPRI (2010) Table 8-1 states the theoretical capacity factor for CST plants and page 8-1 gives the DNI (Direst Normal Radiation) at a sample of locations in Australia. These theoretical capacity factors are provided for plants with no thermal storage (like SEGS) and with 6 hours thermal storage. I have factored the plant costs up from the costs for 0 h and 6 h storage to 15 h storage, as shown at the bottom of the spreadsheet (linked at the top of this thread).

    A question: what would be the cost of water where the 2.6 GW CST plants are nominated to operate:

    White Cliffs

  22. What I am finding is that people have little understanding of Concentrating Solar Power, (CSP) and it has numerous variants, Power Tower, Trough, and with a variety of compounds.

    However, people just automatically think it is the ‘saviour’ to replace coal fired power as the ‘supplier’ of demand that is the absolute requirement of that Base Load, and that CSP is just, well, the one form of power generation, eg, all the same.

    The home sites for these CSP are vague in their explanation, and the average ‘punter’ reads what is there and thinks that this is the way of the future.

    It can be explained as carefully as is possible, and people just think that the explanation of itself is the spin.

    The limiting factor is the weight of the turbine/generator complex.

    With CSP, the mirrors are focussed to heat the compound to a molten state and that compound then boils water to high temperature high pressure steam which drives a conventional steam turbine, which in turn drives the generator.

    It’s not a matter of hooking up a typical large scale power plant generator, eg similar to a large scale Nuclear Power Plant, a generator in that case having the ability to generate up to and beyond 1000MW. That generator has a huge weight, and it requires an enormous amount of high pressure steam to drive what is in effect a very large turbine, enough to actually turn over that huge weight of the generator, and to keep it turning at the required 3000RPM, or 3600RPM in the U.S.

    ‘Hook’ a generator of that size at a CSP plant and it will never even begin to move.

    I’m trying to explain that CSP plants have typically five considerably smaller, hence lighter in weight generators of around 50MW, giving a Nameplate Capacity of 250MW, which in fact makes the plant ‘seem’ relatively large, when the average person reads the ‘blurb’ at the site for the plant.

    However, if the molten compound is used specifically for ‘full’ generation, than the plant can generate that 250MW, an manage around 5 to 7 hours a day (at best) of that level of generation, (250MW) and again, that time is for bright full Sun days in Summer.

    However, it they have that heat retention capacity, at an added and sometimes enormous cost, then all that can be generated is steam enough to run one of those 50MW generators, and possibly to extend this out for up to 15 hours, again, at the absolute best, because they need that steam to last as long as possible, hence the need to keep the compound as molten as possible for as long as is possible.

    See now how a plant that may have a nominal Nameplate Capacity of 250MW might only generate 50MW if it has that heat retention ability.

    Also, that 15 hours is theoretical, hence that ‘quoted’ Capacity Factor of that 60%, but the actuality is showing that very few plants in operation are actually achieving this level of power generation, as mentioned above by Graeme.

    However, what the average people see, and consequently believe is the plant can produce 250MW, and because the info at the site is so vague, and what technical info there is at the site is not correctly understood by that average person, there is a belief that these plants can in fact supply what ‘seems’ to be large scale power, that 250MW, and do it for extended periods of time, something patently incorrect.

    When I attempt to explain it, I’m somehow a ‘shill’ for big oil, and against any form of renewable power because I’m somehow supporting the huge emissions of CO2 from large scale coal fired power, just by running down renewable power plants.

    It’s in the interests of those CSP plants (and all types of renewable power plants) to make their plants look like they can achieve something. They do this by aiming the information in a manner that is vague, is not readily understood by the average person, and when deciphered and explained correctly, could be interpreted as hiding the truth in plain sight, the problem being there is that no one understands what is being said, if you can see that point.


  23. Peter thank you for drawing to our attention the enormous cost of going green

    All I can say is that there is a huge difference between theory and its practical application

    I don’t know much (well okay nothing) about how successful peaking gas turbine plants are but James Delingpole linked to this article recently

    Russia’s main gas-company, Gazprom, was unable to meet demand last weekend as blizzards swept across Europe, and over three hundred people died. Did anyone even think of deploying our wind turbines to make good the energy shortfall from Russia?

    Of course not. We all know that windmills are a self-indulgent and sanctimonious luxury whose purpose is to make us feel good. Had Europe genuinely depended on green energy on Friday, by Sunday thousands would be dead from frostbite and exposure, and the EU would have suffered an economic body blow to match that of Japan’s tsunami a year ago. No electricity means no water, no trams, no trains, no airports, no traffic lights, no phone systems, no sewerage, no factories, no service stations, no office lifts, no central heating and even no hospitals, once their generators run out of fuel.

    EDM 2011 at page 9 mentions looking at lower cost alternatives to a system requiring high levels of peaking capacity and says

    Lower cost alternatives may include increased diversity in renewable sources, more effective storage regimes, distributed generation in the form of co- and tri-generation,

    and worryingly

    energy efficiency to reduce peaks in demand, and shifting demand to better coincide with renewable generation.

    I’ve read that wind power can’t operate when it’s too windy or too cold. Solar power can’t operate efficiently when its screens are dusty and of course doesn’t operate at night and when it’s cloudy.

    There seem to be so many variables which have not been properly considered in the push to ‘go green’ and when Australia has cheap coal and nuclear potential I am amazed and concerned that Australia has politicians and a political party shutting their minds to what we have going for us and what is happening in the rest of the world.

    As Warwick implies ‘go green if you want brownouts’

  24. Also, what I think I haven’t made clear above is that with CSP, you can have one or the other, either full generation (that quoted 250MW) OR with heat retention, then you will only have 50MW.

    The proposed plant at Chichilla will not have heat retention and will only be generating its 250MW during daylight hours.

    This would work out to around 5 to 6 hours a day, at the theoretical best case, more in Summer, and less in Winter.

    The plant (theoretically) hopes to provide a demand of between 500 and 600GWH a year, and that total includes 15% of its total power coming from supplementary Natural Gas fired boilers driving the generators.


  25. 24GW of Gas Turbines operating at 13% capacity burning crop residues requires national resources on the scale of existing Australian grains cropping

    Peter Lang has already costed the Elliston et al 2011 proposition to power Australia completely with renewables, see post.

    I was interested to check out for myself the practical implications in terms of tonnage of fuel requirements and land area required to produce that fuel – for the 24GW of Gas Turbines which prop up the entire solar & wind edifice on demand. Elliston et al says little on this subject but I assume they hope to utilise fuel technology processes to wring more efficiency out of their crop residues. They would need to because calculations show that burning crop residues to power steam turbines generators would require a land area of ~35 million ha and a tonnage ~20 million – all on or greater than the scale of the entire Australian grains industry.
    On page 4 of Elliston et al they say – Gas turbines are included to meet demand shortfalls. In the scenario, the turbines are powered with biofuels derived from crop residues.
    In Table 1 on page 5 of Elliston et al they say – that Electrical energy from gas turbines totals 28.1(TWh) – a capacity factor of ~13%.
    On pages 6 and 7 Elliston et al they provide interesting coloured charts showing the Supply and demand plot for the simulated NEM for January 2010 and June/July 2010. Note the much larger proportion of Gas Turbine electricity in the June/July compared to the January chart. This tells us that most activity around these power plants would be in the winter – I wonder if anybody has thought through the logistics of transport, storage etc. I think not.

    Peter suggested I read a new report by the Grattan Institute 2012; No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future?
    There are two links – Copy of the Report (650KB) and Copy of the Detailed Technology Analysis (12.4MB)
    On page 8-9 of the Grattan technology report they show a map pointing out a rectangle of land of area 240,000ha that could provide the annual fuel to supply a 30MW Gas Turbine at a 70% capacity factor.
    Calculating from this basis I find that the 24GW of gas turbines operating at a 13% capacity factor – would require 35,692,800 ha – which is near to all the land in Australia in the category “Dryland agriculture”. According to this ANRA website.
    The ANRA web site says Dryland agriculture occupies 40,310,800 ha or 5.2% of Australia. This is the land category that includes our wheat belts.

    Grattan technology report page 8-11 section 8.4.1 Fuel supply resource, a section well worth reading – Grattan says “For example, co-firing 3 per cent of biomass (by energy content) in a 1000 MW coal-fired power station would require around 192,000 t of biomass annually.” I was curious to work out what biomass tonnage would be required for the Elliston 24GW of Gas Turbines burning crop residues.

    From the tech report page 8.11
    “The quantity of biomass required is significant, even for low
    levels of co-firing. For example, co-firing 3 per cent of biomass (by
    energy content) in a 1000 MW coal-fired power station would
    require around 192,000 t of biomass annually. I assume this power station works around the clock so has a near 100% capacity factor.

    The 24GW of gas turbines or 24,000MW needs 800 x 192,000 = 153,600,000 x 13% capacity factor = 19,968,000 t PA – or about equal to our national wheatcrop.
    Assuming the tonnage of wheat straw in a crop is about equal to the wheat – we need all the straw from the entire Australian wheat crop to fuel the Elliston et al gas turbines each year.
    Then there are issues over the fact that currently wheat straw is mostly recycled on farm – returning carbon (humus) and nutrients to the soil. If this advantage is no longer available – then we assume farmers would have to source these nutrients and carbon from elsewhere.
    Clearly there are major problems in the practical workings of the Elliston et al plan.

    The ANRA web site says Dryland agriculture occupies 40,310,800 ha or 5.2% of Australia. This is the land category that includes our wheat belts.
    The Grattan technology report Section 8.4.2 pages 8-13 & 8-14 sets out clearly that these biomass fuel enhancing technologies are years or decades away yet. I quote – [It will probably require at least five to ten years of further research and field experience before there is sufficient commercial confidence to support a significant roll-out of these technologies.]

    Unless some advanced technology can cheaply convert crop residues to more efficient fuels – I think the Elliston et al plan for 24GW of backup gas turbines is hopelessly impractical.
    I would appreciate if readers can tell me if me figures are correct or not.

  26. WSH,

    I’m not sure even if this would be of any assistance.

    In Queensland and NSW, virtually every Sugar mill has as part of its structure its own power plant utilising the cane waste (bagasse) as the biofuel to burn, thus providing enough electrical power for the whole mill.

    In Queensland that total power generation comes in at 328MW from 22 separate sugar Mills and in NSW 88MW from 5 sugar mills.

    If this is the waste from the whole (or most of anyway) Australian sugar crop, perhaps you ‘may’ be able to use that for the purpose of comparison.

    As I mentioned, this may not even be of any assistance to you.


  27. Hi Warwick,

    I haven’t checked your figures in detail but they do look much higher than I calculated and much higher than I think others have calcualted. The Grattan Insitiute report refers to some other studies. I haven’t reviewed these. In the section “Gas turbines running on biofuels” in my paper (see PDF attached at top of thread), I said I had calculated the biofuel would require 74% of all Australia’s irrigated land or 4% of all Australia’s arable land. However, these figures are based on European and US land productivity figures so may be way out. I sent you a spreadsheet with my calculations.

    I may be wrong, so I’ll be very interested to hear if you can confirm if your figures are correct and/or if there is an error in my calculations.

    Great work Warwick, as always. And thank you for taking the trouble to check this out properly and independently. We need more of such independent checking an analysis.

  28. TonyfomOz,

    Yes, but they fire up the boilers with oil, and also use oil if running the boilers in the Off Season.

    The bagasse comes off the crushing train rather wet, so is partially dried using waste heat from the boiler, before burning it.

    The heat value of dried bagasse is rather low, less than half that of hay or wheat straw. But there is plenty of it during the crush season, and usually a bit over, so the boiler gets another week or so. Using bagasse saves reduces oil consumption, and also the cost of getting rid of it if it weren’t burnt. And NO, it isn’t usable in particle board.

    Commenting on Warwick’s note 27; of course gas turbines can’t run on dry biofuel, only gas or liquid.
    Pyrolysis of agricultural waste yields about 70% liquid ‘oil’, but its calorific value is only 40% that of diesel oil. That puts Warwick’s 20 million tons up to 71 million tons.
    It is also much higher viscosity, so pumping it all over the countryside would be difficult. It is also acid and quite corrosive, calling for more expensive tanks, pipelines etc.
    You could turn the agricultural waste into methane by anaerobic digestion, but why would you bother, with shale oil gas cheaper and so much more convenient?

  29. On energy – the USA has approved the first 2 new nuclear power stations for 30 years.
    The reactors that were approved are the third generation Westinghouse AP1000 which have passive shutdown (no human actions required) and passive cooling (no pumps needed). The location where the reactors will be is near Waynesboro, Georgia. It is not seismically active, and the site is at an elevation of about 200 feet and separated from the Atlantic Ocean by about 100 miles of flat land. If a tsunami reaches it, the nation will have much more to worry about than the condition of a nuclear power plant.
    These are the same type as the Chinese are installing.

    Texas has the largest wind capacity of any state in the US. (ERCOT) is the state grid operator and manager of the wholesale electric market. Using data obtained from ERCOT, Joshua Neeley posted a study which includes calculations of the effective wind power in Texas. The peak demand is in the summer and the peak output from wind power is in the winter. ERCOT officially estimates the available capacity from wind power in the summer to be 8.7% of the installed (nameplate) capacity. Actual production may be a bit less. During peak hour the available capacity may be as little as 1% of nameplate capacity.
    In Europe in this big freeze, the wind turbines are useless. Germany has had to restart 5 of the 8 nuclear station that they shut down last year, and a sixth is being readied. And they’re spending $A 10 billion a year on PV subsidies to get 0.3% of their electricity. That amount would buy them new coal fired capacity 20-25 times that.
    Oh, and to balance the big new wind farms in the Baltic they’re building 5 new brown coal fired stations.

  30. Graeme I have an interest in the Baltics; can you give me a link to the ‘5 new brown coal fired stations’ statement

  31. Sorry, the original reference went when I had computer trouble. I only backup what seems important, and I had finished that project.

    I suggest
    unfortunately the links have been closed off. They list plants building at Wilhelmshaven, LUENEN, MANNHEIM, with projects starting at
    Brunsbuettel (2), KREFELD, DATTELN, STADE. gives another list; elsewhere there are references to a total of 26 projects; and curiously the SMH is sound on importing power to replace shut down nuclear. has the news that
    “Germany to fund new coal plants with climate change cash”. Other sites are also frothing at the mouth over this.
    Hope this helps.

  32. I agree the examples of burning biomass from the Grattan report that I have scaled up – are not the same as Elliston et al are proposing – which is to use technology as yet unproven to convert crop residue biomass to a liquid or gas product that can be burnt in their gas turbines. So in that sense I was comparing apples to oranges. I am still looking for published case histories of “pyrolysis or gasification” processes utilising wheat crop residue to generate electricity, being run on a useful scale and relevant to Australian conditions.
    The numbers on the Electropaedia web page look to me to be quoting UK relevant biomass yields per ha. According to the NFF (2008-09) NSW wheat yield is 1.6 t/ha which is about 15% say of non-wood yields in the Table “Crop Yields and Energy Content” at the Electropaedia web page. So I think Peter’s land area figure of 1,603,800 ha from Electropaedia needs to be upped by a factor of say times 6.6 for Australian conditions. That gives us 10,560,000 ha which is still lower than the Grattan report figures I scaled up but is still half the land cultivated each year for all grain crops according to the NFF.
    I am happy that from the 2 sets of Grattan report numbers scaled up and the Electropaedia numbers scaled up for Australian low yields – that all indicate a resource of the scale of the total Australian grains industry is required to produce crop residues to be burnt – if that way was chosen to provide the 28TWhs required by Elliston et al from their gas turbines. Now the issue is whether it can be shown that more complex and untried technologies (pyrolysis or gasification) can provide significantly higher energy yields to make Elliston et al feasible.
    I have not yet found www case studies of these technolgies that can help solve this issue.

  33. Warwick,

    This is fantastic. Thank you. You may be interested in the first comment on the BNC thread that has my post:

    This comment explains that gas turbines do not have to run on gas. They are very flexible. They can run on just about any gas or liquid (from methane through to crude oil). Therefore, it is not necessary to convert wheat stalks to gas if it is more efficent to convert them to a liquid.

  34. Warwick and other readers,

    Further to the potential biofuels capacity, David Mackay’s book “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” could provide another source for a sanity check on your numbers. The book is UK centric, but I suspect you could factor down their biomass energy per hectare productivity figures from UK to Australia in proportion to the average UK and Australian tonnes per hectare.

    You can get to the chapters or directly to the page numbers from the Table of Contents here:

    Here are some pages on biomass and biofuels that may be useful

    p42 – “solar biomass”
    p48, point #43

    For other readers, I’d suggest this book is a useful reference for matters about what is practicable (in a purely technical sense). I’d recommend bookmarking this for future use. It has lots of useful information in it (e.g. I love the emissions intensity by country on page 335 – Denmark, with the world’s highest wind penetration has 10 times higher GHG emissions than France, from electricity).

    Warning: The author is a warmist, he does not deal with cost or economics, and the book is UK centric.

    I like his “Preface” which says:

    What’s this book about?
    I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about
    sustainable energy. Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and
    we’re all encouraged to “make a difference,” but many of the things that
    allegedly make a difference don’t add up.

    Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional
    (for example about wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks
    about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers, they select them to sound
    big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather than
    to aid thoughtful discussion.

    This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide
    the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and
    to policies that add up.

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