Trigger warning Snowy 2.0 is a dog

Judith Sloan writes in The Australian – Turnbull should dump Snowy 2.0 for clean coal – I have a list of 11 points about pumped hydro and Snowy 2.0
Can I just state a few relevant facts re Snowy 2.0. Please correct me if wrong.
[1] Despite the explosion in wholesale and retail electricity prices over a few years now and the ongoing closure of coal fired power stations Snowy Hydro had next to zero interest in Snowy 2.0 until our “bankster” PM was attracted to the concept early this year.
[2] Pumped hydro relies on a simple concept of using cheap electricity to pump water uphill to a storage – then when grid prices are expensive you run the water down to turbines which generate electricity and the aim is to make a profit over and above returns required to cover project construction costs. Added 3 Jan 2018 this chart (see Comment 10) shows that since 1 Apr 2015 days with cheap power have been getting increasingly scarce in South Australia.
[3] Our grid electricity prices peak in the evenings and are at the lowest in early morning near dawn.
[4] But wind blows strongest in daytime while at night winds tend to be weaker – which is contrary to what is ideal for [3].
[5] There is an energy loss in the entire round trip of pumped hydro and maybe the MWhr’s of generated electricity for final sale is only ~70% of the electricity required to pump your water uphill. No machinery is 100% efficient and there is friction in tunnels. There is also a loss of water by evaporation while in storage.
[6] I have not seen modelling to test the Snowy 2.0 concept despite we have years of AEMO data that could be a starting point for “what if we did this instead?” modelling. I would bet a bottle of ALDI Red that plenty of playing with modelling has been done but the results are not supportive of Snowy 2.0.
[7] There are also issues around the engineering impacts of construction and spoil disposal where I am sure Green and other special interest groups will extract costs.
[8] If Snowy 2.0 is so good let private enterprise build it.
[9] (Added 1stJan18) Here are the capacity numbers from SnowHydro www pages
A full discharge produces 350,000MWhrs or 2,000MW for 7.29 days.
If we say it would take a round number 500,000MWhrs to charge the system that would equate to a round trip efficiency of 70% and would take 10.4 days at 2,000MW steady generation. Of course the way wind blows intermittently it could take longer.
[10] Charging the system. SnowyHydro say on page 8/34 in their Snowy 2.0 Short Feasibility Study Report that this project would “enable” 4,000MW of new​ ​wind​ ​and​ ​solar​ ​capacity​ ​to​ ​enter​ ​the​ ​market​ ​in​ ​a​ ​manner​ ​​not​ ​otherwise​ ​economically​ ​achievable.
No numbers are put on the solar component but the 4,000MW of wind compares with 4,600MW of wind power capacity installed in the Eastern States now. So installing 4,000MW of wind power capacity represents a colossal and lengthy venture with a myriad uncertainties. I note that wind farms north of Yass have taken near a decade to get all approvals. I also note that the AGL proposal for a modest 750 to 1,500MW of peaking gas fired generation at Dalton north of the ACT is also snarled in objections after near a decade. Common sense tells you too that the prime locations for wind have been grabbed by now.
[11] Weighing the whole idea I would say the “4,000MW of wind and solar” for charging Snowy 2.0 should be be built and owned by the Snowy 2.0 venture to ensure that the multiplicity of engineering components are all co-ordinated to be complete and functioning at the correct time. If there was one boss and no taxpayers money risked – I would say go for it.

16 thoughts on “Trigger warning Snowy 2.0 is a dog”

  1. The only purpose of Snowy 2 is to provide storage capacity for all the new ‘renewables’ that this Government and the Labor party want to install.
    The trouble is that the rush to the subsidies trough is on now and the storage won’t be available for many years. Either a lot of wind farms will have to be shut down when the wind strengthens or there will be frequent blackouts from oversupply (as well as the usual from undersupply).
    Given the average intelligence of both major parties is roughly that of a wooden pole, I suppose they will introduce subsidies for electricity not produced.

  2. Warwick,

    Your estimate of 70% energy return seems about right (The Economist here says 70-75%, and they are likely to be optimistic).

    Still, just energy out as a percentage of energy in at the dam site is not the whole picture. There are also the transmission losses from the wind turbines to the Snowy; the Economist has probably forgotten about evaporation, and no one mentions the energy required to build the motors, pumps, transformers, transmission lines, etc.

    The whole idea is also very limited by uncontrollable natural factors. As this site has shown, wind droughts can go on for days or even weeks during periods of high demand, so there would often be very limited supply. On the other hand, in very wet seasons, or in Spring when the snow melts, Snowy dams must be filling quickly anyway so that pumped storage would be like bringing coals to Newcastle. All in all, pumped hydro from wind power is hardly an advisable strategy for a country already facing blackouts from a lack of reliable, switch-on generating capacity.

    The bottom line is as you say Warwick, if it’s an economic goer, let the private sector handle it. If they can’t make it turn a dollar, you can bet some bureaucracy won’t do any better.

  3. The dog is the guy who proposed Snowy 2.0.
    Why didn’t he give us all the Christmas present we wrote to Santa about – his resignation?

  4. This very pumped storage scheme or one very much like it was evaluated back in the 80s and even then (when genuine, low cost, off peak coal power was plentiful) it didn’t stack up economically. But now it seems black can be white when there’s ship loads of “free” taxpayers and electricity users money on offer.
    Under Turnbull’s latest ideologically inspired thought bubble, his National Electricity Guarantee scheme, somehow we are expected to believe that more government meddling in the electricity market with enforceable quotas for base load and renewables can be achieved without the present subsidies. Well maybe it won’t be called subsidy but it’s obvious that the gravy train money will be extracted in other ways for example as plain, simple price hikes in our already ballooning wholesale electricity prices. The tithe could even come in the form of penalty payments to the overseas “carbon” trading Mafia. Turnbull may believe in the tooth fairy but it’s London to a brick Australia’s terminally flawed electricity market will ensure that the likes of AGL and the other rent seekers riding the renewables, gravy train will continue to extract their ill gotten gains one way or another.

  5. Tasmanian Hydro tried that. They sent power to Victoria via the Bass link cable until the dams were nearly empty. Then tried to take power back the other way but blew the cable link at the Victorian end (I think the inverter blew up -the cable under bass straight is designed for DC which is also what the Hydro generates but power from the Latrobe valley is AC) As the dams were down low, the Tas Hydro had to quickly rush in diesel generators until the power station near Launceston could be re-commissioned for gas. The latter is now part of the Tasmania power mix with Hazelwood gone and less power available from Victoria. Tas is lucky that they have more gas then they need from the Yolla gasfield in Bass straight.

  6. ” If Snowy 2.0 is so good let private enterprise build it.” This is the key phrase to explain the foolishness of the Pumped Hydro Scheme. The continuing subsidies given to ‘Renewables’ remain even when we are continually told that ‘Renewables’ are now cheaper to use than coal and gas. The only reason that Pumped Hydro is even being talked about is the continuing CAGW hysteria, misrepresentation of CO2’s role in climate and demolition of gas/coal power stations. Without the Hysteria, no one would have ever mentioned Pumped Hydro as it is simply an energy loss mechanism unless the water pumps itself uphill for free. Without the misrepresentation of the effect of CO2 on climate, no one would suggest bird-frying solar generators, bird/bat chopping wind-turbines, self destroying wave power generators, and the like.

  7. Come, come Nicholas, wave power generators aren’t self destroying – Nature does that.
    When I was in Orkney (1977) I was impressed by the tides there. They also get the waves direct from thousands of miles across the Atlantic. Someone mooted the use of such wave power, using a bay which narrowed towards a cliff. The idea was for shafts inside that cliff to capture the wave energy as air forced upwards as the waves arrived (and the reverse). The only problem foreseen was the rocks at the base of the cliff, which would disrupt the incoming waves and it was suggested that they could be removed. A local pointed out the the rocks were part of the cliff face which had collapsed the previous year – as happened regularly. End of that scheme.

  8. The technical feasibility report for Snowy 2.0 has been released (with the costs censored out, of course):

    For those who are interested (unhappily, almost no-one, I suspect), the various Geology sections make interesting reading. The comments therein are not unexpected, of course.

    At this point, we have desktop studies of much earlier reports from Snowy 1.0 plus some very limited, minor field mapping. Any hard, detailed, comprehensive exploration work is a long way off. Alpine regions are characterised by cross-cutting tectonic structures to great depth, a variety of lithologies to depth with their associated weathering profiles, breccia zones by the bucket and groundwater flows in detailed chaos. The geology sections faithfully record all this but delicately forbear to note the enormous cost imposition from it to engineering reliability.

    This is why Snowy 2.0 is a dog.

    At least $12bn and a time over-run of about a decade. And not one person cares.

  9. I can think of another point for and two against. It can help to stabilise the grid on both charge and discharge by adding rapidly controllable spinning momentum that can act like a flywheel for the unstable solar, wind and load. Against the water will get dirty if used again and again. Also they could pump a lot up to watch it evaporate.

  10. I thought Frydenbergs – “there are 5 rock types” statement a few days ago was deserving of framing.
    3 Jan 18 – Adding this chart for South Australia showing how from 1 Apr 2015 there has been a huge reduction in the days with cheap power. Note the availability of “cheap power” is one of the arguments in favour of pumped hydro.

  11. If Snowy 2.0 is so essential for something so basic as our electricity supply surely the 4,000MW of wind power should be able to be built on the Snowy Mountains. I assume there is good wind there and the turbines could be close as possible to the pumped hydro. If in the future another power source such as nuclear fusion emerges then the Snowy 2.0 wind turbines can be demolished.

  12. Hi wazz

    Re your SA chart – quite so. I still cannot get over how people keep quoting wholesale prices of wind power per MWh generated, as if it’s like tonnes of apples that can be just added to the fruit supply and reduce the price of fruit. The public and politicians seem to have no idea what electricity is, and how irrelevant the price of a low quality input like wind power is to its final price. Only an adequate supply of reliable baseload power keeps prices down, and when you take that out and rely more on wind, cheap prices just disappear, and the average takes a permanent step up, as your chart shows so clearly.

  13. @wazz

    > “I thought Frydenbergs – “there are 5 rock types” statement a few days ago was deserving of framing”

    I missed that (on family holidays). Did he play geologist to the geoscientifically illiterate crowd ? In the Kingdom of the Dumb, the loudest voice is a winner.

  14. Beachgirl, the Snowy mountains would not be a good place for wind farms beside of course being ugly and spoil the view. When it snows there is little or no wind. Blizzards (which are rare there) actually blow the snow on the ground away and make the surface icy which is poor for skiing.
    One of the few places where there is some regular wind is Woolnorth or Cape Grim in North West Tasmania which is at latitude 40S ie in what is called the “roaring forties” . However, the wind fluctuates and at times little power is produced. There are two gas power stations adjacent to each other Bell Bay and Tamar Valley. The latter is owned by Tas Hydro and has 5 CCGT units which Tas hydro wants to keep the TV PS running.

  15. Opinion piece in The Australian 10Jan18 by Paul Broad MD and CEO of Snowy Hydro seems to be a reply to critics of Snowy 2.0. – googling the headline can help penetrate the paywall
    Snowy 2.0 is well-placed to fill gaps in the energy market
    The National Electricity Market has long been an outstanding example of Australia’s micro-economic reform. It brought much needed competition to an industry once dominated by inefficient state-run enterprises.

    Snowy Hydro has been at the heart of this market, with volatility being the key driver of value for our business.

    Our unique portfolio of fast-start generation assets and large storages allows us to generate at times of peak demand, provide cap contracts insuring retailers against price volatility, and “time-shift” surplus, low-price energy to high-price-demand periods. We also underpin system security through synchronous generation and ancillary services.

    Snowy 2.0 is an expansion of what we already do. It is not new or unique. The concept of expanding our pumped storage capability has been around since the 1960s. The growth of baseload power negated its viability, but the economics are changing rapidly.

    As intermittent renewables grow, the market will experience greater volatility and uncertainty. The Australian Energy Market Operator confirms this trend as we move to a lower emissions future.

    Snowy Hydro has witnessed this first hand, with increased demand for cap contracts in recent times. As it’s often said, when the wind doesn’t blow or sun doesn’t shine, how you fill those gaps forms the cornerstone of a secure, reliable and affordable NEM. In fact, filling in gaps has always been a key role of Snowy Hydro. As renewables increase, the need for our services will increase exponentially.

    All independent analyses show that large-scale storage is paramount to a lower emissions future. Snowy 2.0 will deliver 350,000MWh of storage to consumers at lowest cost. In fact, the project’s economics blow the alternatives out of the water. If Snowy 2.0 wasn’t built, the alternative would be a combination of batteries and open-cycle gas plants, costing at least twice as much and resulting in higher prices for consumers.

    Some commentators have mistakenly sought to model Snowy 2.0 on today’s NEM, rather than the NEM we see coming. The future NEM, dominated by renewables, will require significant flexible peaking generation and storage. Snowy 2.0 will come on line from 2024 at precisely the right time to fill the gaps and stabilise the market.

    Snowy Hydro is already the leading provider of cap contracts. Increased market volatility, together with Snowy 2.0’s unrivalled storage capability, will allow us to expand our product offerings. These include insurance “floors” and “collars” (providing price certainty for wind and solar) and seasonal “energy exchange” products. This will enhance long-term energy security.

    Snowy Hydro’s ability to provide ancillary services, critical for system security, will also increase to meet the demands of the future NEM.

    As for claims that the economics don’t stack up — I refute them categorically. Snowy 2.0 can be funded off our balance sheet, while delivering a healthy internal rate of return of 8 per cent.

    While, historically, we have not often used our pumping capability, we’re progressively pumping more and will be at capacity when Snowy 2.0 comes on line. In fact, our analysis shows that future storage demand will surpass Snowy 2.0’s capacity from 2031, when we can again deliver by expanding the scheme, using the same reservoirs as Snowy 2.0, to benefit future generations.

    The scale, complexity and challenging geology of Snowy 2.0 requires a significant investment. Like any major infrastructure project, it is not without risk. To mitigate these risks, we have hand-picked a team of world experts as partners on the feasibility study and beyond as we finalise the project’s precise technical requirements.

    Finally, to suggest Snowy Hydro isn’t paying for transmission is misleading. The capital costs for Snowy 2.0 provide for the cost of the project’s transmission connection — that is, the lines connecting our assets to the wider shared network. The shared transmission network is common infrastructure used by all generators, with Snowy Hydro being only one and, in fact, the most infrequent user today, given we only generate at peak times.

    The transmission network was built decades ago around coal, and the ideal zones for renewables are not in the same locations. The shared network needs a major upgrade to cater for renewables growth as new projects — again one of which is Snowy 2.0 — come on line. The suggestion that Snowy Hydro pay for the entirety of these upgrades is misplaced.

    At Snowy Hydro, our financial track record speaks for itself. We conduct rigorous forensic analysis of all investment opportunities and apply stringent hurdles to ensure the best outcomes for our shareholders. Our independent board exercises the highest levels of scrutiny in assessing investment decisions.

    Our feasibility study demonstrated the sound economics of Snowy 2.0. As we move towards a final investment decision late this year, our discipline will not waver. Our shareholders, and the energy industry, would expect nothing less.

    Paul Broad is managing director and chief executive of Snowy Hydro.

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