Beyond coal?

Let’s start with some facts: in calendar 2015, on the data provided by the Australian Energy Market Operator, black coal provided 51.5 per cent of electricity sent out by east coast power stations and brown coal contributed 25.8 per cent.

According to the Cedex report produced by Hugh Saddler, total coal generation in the 12 months to September this year was 75.9 percent with brown coal output at 22.3 per cent.

With the closure of the Port Augusta generation earlier this year and the planned closure of Hazelwood in March, the output by brown coal plant will continue to change – but to what extent and how much of the slack will be taken up by black coal production in 2017 remains to be seen.

The role of coal as the current bedrock of the eastern mainland States’ power system, however, is not open to question. How to shift to a lower-emissions, affordable, efficient and reliable new mix is the challenge – and the idea that this can be achieved in the next decade or so without coal power at all seems to me, at least, to be fanciful in the extreme.

This is backdrop to the tabling of an interim report on coal power by a Senate committee chaired by the Greens’ Larissa Waters.

The Greens/Labor majority on the committee want the federal government, in summary, to produce a plan now to close all Australia’s coal power while maintaining energy security and helping the power workers displaced by the move.

Needless to say, these senators want yet another government body – an “energy transition authority” – to oversee the process.

Coalition senators have produced a minority, dissenting report warning that what the Greens and Labor propose would transfer the energy transition risk from power businesses to taxpayers while increasing end-user prices and reducing supply security.

Not surprisingly, Environment & Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg points to the Finkel energy task force and says the government intends to wait on its advice.

Meanwhile the Australian Energy Council is reacting to the Victorian Labor government setting up a retail energy market review by pointing out that, apart from the Australian Energy Market Commission regularly reporting on NEM retail competition, the State’s consumers are likely to see “significant increases in energy costs next year as a result of Hazelwood ceasing operation.”

AEC says: ““This cost increase is a by-product of the reduction in the State’s generation capacity of around 20 per cent.”

It has also responded to the Senate report by saying that the policy focus needs to be on reducing emissions rather than closing power stations. “We need to think hard about how we are going to run the system at the lowest cost while maintaining reliability.”

What I find notable about the Greens/Labor majority report for the Senate committee is that, despite calling for an “honest and robust” discussion on the coal closure issue, it has turned a determined tin ear to the expert evidence delivered to it in a 17 November hearing by EnergyAustralia executive Mark Collette.

He told the committee that replacing the energy coming from coal and gas plants with renewables – which is the goal of the Greens and their fellow travellers – would require construction of about 75,000 megawatts of new capacity or about 500 power projects.

Collette estimated the cost of this at between $100 billion and $150 billion and pointed out such a system would need significant back-up – with the storage offered by batteries and other technology costing about as much again as generation investment.

The senators mightn’t like to hear this and might want to disbelieve it, given all the Pollyanna advice they are getting from elsewhere about how green technology costs will tumble in the best of all possible worlds, but they surely should acknowledge to the Australian community that this is what they have been told. They haven’t.

For lay people struggling to comprehend the size of the task, Collette offered senators this further thought: if the whole extra renewables build was wind power, two to three turbines would need to be erected daily every day for 30 years.

Elsewhere it has been pointed out that just building the projects needed to deliver on the federal government’s current national carbon abatement target for 2030, something the Greens and Labor want to ditch for much higher ambitions, would require spending about $25 billion on wind and solar developments (before the system resilience issues are addressed).

As it happens, there is another green-as-grass administration at present providing an object lesson is how hard it is to go down these paths. This is the Alberta government in Canada. Having committed to ditching the province’s coal power, it is moving to cap retail prices to be paid by consumers and introducing a capacity market over the top of its current NEM-like system.

The Alberta regime aims to junk 6,300 megawatts of coal generation (owned by the private sector, who want compensation) and replace it by two-thirds renewable and one-third gas capacity.

Leaving all else aside (and these matters are complex, as we know), the Alberta government is planning to subsidize electricity (in a province with winters that make Tasmania look like St Tropez) for mass market consumers. You might like to place your bets now on how well this will go.

(In passing, another Canadian provincial government, Ontario, equally green, is currently in more political trouble than cod at a cats’ picnic with sky-rocketing power bills, an issue opinion polls there say is voters’ chief concern. Ontario’s energy minister is vowing this week that the policy will now become “technology agnostic” and acknowledging that his government’s efforts to force intermittent renewables in to the provincial system have been “arbitrary, leading to sub-optimal outcomes and have heightened community concern.” And this in a region with recourse to major hydro capacity as well as nuclear power.)

As it happens, Frydenberg was giving a keynote address to an energy conference at the Australian National University (for some reason that is beyond me the text is to be found on his personal website and not the official departmental one) as the Senate committee’s perceptions were being publicized.

As an example of just how hard it is to please critics at present, I note an email circulating among some of my fellow travellers in this space (people collectively with several centuries of experience of the business) which (a) praises Frydenberg for providing a very candid description of the local context and challenges and (b) notes that he did not dwell on the reform barriers or show appreciation of the scale and timing issues that affect the transition.

Frydenberg acknowledged to the ANU Energy Change Institute audience that “it is a big job to ensure stability, security, and reliability in the energy system while at the same time balancing the costs to industry and consumers and the need for a transition to a low carbon, low-emissions economy.”

He went on: “Policies need to provide the right environment to create and maintain flexible, well‑functioning and competitive energy markets that provide clear price signals. They need to provide investment certainty for industry but also provide an environment that encourages and rewards innovation. This means having an energy market that is technology neutral. Building on from our current energy market reforms, we need to take a whole-of-system approach that addresses all of the interlocking components of the energy market.”

Quite so. Senators please note.

Now on to the CoAG Leaders’ meeting in Canberra at the end of next week — which will receive an interim report from the Finkel task force.






A climate of insecurity

In the great scheme of things, 2016 is going to be remembered for Brexit, Donald Trump and, closer to home, a federal election in which the Coalition came within a whisker of losing office after a crushing victory over Labor in 2013. It is also, for those of us fixated on electricity and gas matters, the year in which energy security flared in to the headlines in a big way.

The thing we call “year” is just a matter of convenience; in reality, issues flow regardless of calendar boundaries and “energy security” is an issue that is going to flow on in to 2017 (and no doubt longer) without checking in with Old Man Time.

However the time available to deal with Australia’s energy security problems without damage to the economy is not open-ended and one could make an argument that we are well over time in setting in train a “fix it” program in order to avoid painful consequences.

This is quite aptly illustrated by a speech the federal Industry, Innovation & Science Minister, Greg Hunt, gave to an Australian Industry Group dinner this week – not least because he declared that we live in “a climate of energy insecurity” in which “the key input for many businesses, reliable and affordable electricity, cannot be taken for granted.”

This is major statement by a senior minister, but it has seemingly been ignored by the mass media – with the exception of today’s “Weekend Australian,” where one of this country’s most senior political journalists, Dennis Shanahan, is looking at our energy security issues against the priority promises of the incoming US president.

Shanahan’s key assertion is that “Australia is in serious danger of losing the advantage of its plentiful energy resources.”

Hunt focused on the fact that “power prices, gas shortages and a hostile attitude to industry from some in the political sphere have combined to make the job of manufacturing even harder.”

He said an increasing number of firms are raising with him the issue of our electricity prices relative to those paid by their competitors and he went on to accuse Labor of willfully ignoring these concerns with its renewable energy targets “that only do one thing – further increase the cost of energy.”

Hunt’s speech then segued to the gas sector and he laid in to State policies “that don’t just threaten future investment, but, increasingly, existing investments.”

I find it more than a little interesting that a ministerial declaration that “describing this as a looming crisis is not too strong a term” can be let through to the ‘keeper by a mass media that can produce strident headlines for many things less serious.

Messing with gas exploration and development is a Coalition sin (New South Wales) as well as a Labor one, but Hunt’s special focus at the AiG dinner was this week’s introduction of Victorian legislation to ban onshore gas exploration and development, “a more short-sighted, self-destructive policy is difficult to imagine.”

The Andrews government’s move, he said, places at risk thousands of well-paying industrial and manufacturing jobs in Melbourne and other parts of Victoria while driving up costs for State households.

Nationally, he added, we need to understand that “future and ongoing investment in manufacturing will be driven by access to reliable and affordable energy, particularly natural gas.”

This, he said, is “a major policy challenge confronting the country.”

Welcome commonsense – and echoing the previous warnings of Martin Ferguson and Ian Macfarlane, an indication of how long the point has been of concern – but how it resonates with the hoi polloi if the mass media collectively don’t report it, as they haven’t, is a big point.

There are, of course, as many points merely in the discussion of factories and energy security (which can be described as two sides of the transition trilemma – price and reliable availability, the third being carbon abatement) as can be found on an echidna.

Just one is something I spotted in the submission by Major Energy Users Inc to the ongoing Senate inquiry in to the closure of coal-fired power stations: “The largest 10 electricity consumers in South Australia might use in excess of 250 gigawatt hours annually (each). The difference in cost to a user of this size between prices available in Victoria and those in SA is more than $10 million a year (each) – the cost equivalent (in total) of employing more than 1,000 employees.”

The MEU, a lobbyist for 20 of our major industrial businesses, goes on to comment: “High (energy) prices place increased pressures on industry to remain competitive and, in some cases, force the early closure of large operations in once stable industries. These closures lead to an increase in unemployment which leads to a myriad of social issues, and places further pressure on government and social services.”

Clearly, this is the messaging reaching Hunt, previously national Environment Minister, as he deals with his new role in the Industry portfolio, but how far, via social and mainstream media, it is from reaching the population at large is probably not open to question: the answer is not much. Read the opinion polls.

As I understand it, a preliminary commentary from Alan Finkel and his taskforce is to be provided to Malcolm Turnbull and the State and Territory leaders when they meet under the Council of Australian Governments umbrella in Canberra in early December.

Will the CoAG discussion take in to account the serious analysis from the federal Industry Minister?

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison commented earlier this month that his government is “very much focused” on “a more stable, more secure long-term energy market for Australia” (this in the wake of the SA blackout and the more recent Hazelwood closure announcement).

As we shift (drift, lurch?) in to 2017, it is not unreasonable, I think, to ask in response what these fine words mean?

Is the energy security climate still going to be deeply concerning this time next year?

The real big picture

In my previous post (“But wait,there’s more”) on this site I focused on the electricity aspects of the International Energy Agency’s 2016 World Energy Outlook publication — but, as we all know, this is only part of the big picture and that canvas deals not only with mitigating climate change but also in alleviating widespread global energy poverty and in underpinning the world economy across the spectrum of energy use.

There’s a multitude of commentary about the Outlook report now on the Web and, in scanning it, I have focused on one table in the IEA document that encapsulates the whole picture. For those who can access the agency’s paywalled full report, it is to be found in table 2.2: world primary energy demand. For those who can’t, put “IEA in the Age of Trump” in to Google search and read the Energy Collective website commentary under this headline.

As I commented yesterday, a critical aspect of assessing this document is understanding that the IEA is offering three scenarios: where business as usual will take us, what the pledges the world’s governments took to Paris last year will mean and, the one that the greens in particular are now seizing on to boost their arguments, a model of how the 450 parts per million carbon plan might be pursued. The latter is not a forecast; it is a modelling concept based on the agency’s wide-ranging handle on data, policies, markets and prices.

The mechanism the IEA uses for this task in table 2.2 is rendering all technology contributions in terms of millions of tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe).

The story starts in 2000 when primary energy demand was 10,042 mtoe and the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) provided 80 per cent with oil out in front by the length of the straight (3,699 mtoe) and non-hydro renewables contributing 60 mtoe (to which one could add 1,026 mtoe for bio-energy and 225 mtoe for hydro power, in all 13 per cent for green energy).

By 2014 there had certainly been change (with demand jumping to 13,684 mtoe and hydro, bio-energy and other renewables providing 1,937 mtoe, now just over 14 per cent) but the fossil fuel share had risen to 81 per cent, with coal in particular growing sharply (now holding 28 per cent up from 23 per cent at the turn of the century) but with oil still leading the pack.

This table looks at 2025 in two ways: where business as usual will take us and where we’ll be if the world’s governments stick to their Paris pledges. (Of course, there is the issue of the Trump presidency in the US — which has descend on us since the agency completed this report).

Under BAU, the agency forecasts global primary energy demand will reach almost 16,000 mtoe in 2025, not all that much different from the product of the pledges being met  (giving demand of 15,340 mtoe).

BAU, it says, will keep fossil fuel’s share at 79 per cent while the pledges will cause this to fall back to 74 per cent. In this latter perspective there is a minor fall in the gas share, a similar decline in oil and a bit more substantial reduction in coal versus BAU. Their combined fall amounts to 698 mtoe while the combined growth of green energy is just 78 mtoe; it’s energy productivity that contributes almost 600 mtoe to the climate task in this modelling.

One shouldn’t lose sight of nuclear power in all this: its contribution has fallen back slightly from 2000 — when it was 676 mtoe — to 662 mtoe in 2014 (the influence of Energiewende and the Japanese issues) but the IEA is predicting it will rise to 865 mtoe under BAU by 2025 or to 888 mtoe under the Paris commitment scenario. In this modelling, its input a decade hence still well outweighs “other” renewables (478 mtoe under the Paris scenario).

Of course, just about the whole gang of stakeholders want to talk about 2040, the IEA’s further horizon. Readers will know my reservations about predictions for a quarter century from now (as I said previously, go back to 1992 and see how much was right for the outlook to 2016 or 2020). However the agency’s modelling for that horizon is important because it plays to the policy debate (international and locally).

The IEA projects global primary energy demand at that point ranging from 19,636 mtoe (business as usual) to 17,866 (Paris pledges) to 14,878 mtoe under the steps it urges on governments. The fossil fuel share ranges from 79 per cent (BAU) to 74 per cent (Paris) to 58 per cent (the IEA’s grand plan). Energy productivity plays a big role — the IEA believes world energy demand can be cut by nearly 3,000 mtoe annually (equal to roughly a third of all demand at the start of this century).

The other big change factors are a diminished role for coal, a big rise in the use of bio-energy, solid growth in nuclear power and a rush to “other” renewables.

The agency suggests coal’s contribution could be down to 2,000 mtoe in 2040 (not much less than it was in 2000), exceeded by bio-energy at 2,310 mtoe and chased by nuclear at 1,590 mtoe — with “other” (i.e. non-hydro) renewables delivering more than 1,750 mtoe. The two stats that will make dark greenies’ eyes water are that, even in this scenario, gas is delivering 3,300 mtoe and oil 3,325 mtoe — between them 44.5% of the world’s energy needs.

It’s notable that the IEA did not choose to share table 2.2 with the media in London on 16 November when it launched the new Outlook.

It could find room for “greater policy support boosts prospects for solar PV and wind” — arguing that “the next chapter in the rise of renewables requires policies to push their role in heat and transport and changes in power market design” — and for “Coal: a rock in a hard place” among its power points but not to share an excellent capsule of both where it thinks things are going out to 2025 on the basis of governments’ promises and where it suggests things may be in 2040 with a carefully managed decarbonization plan. It does not include the table in the 13-page summary made freely available on its website either.

How many members of the current Australian body politic across nine jurisdictions would be gobsmacked to discover the IEA’s reporting of an ongoing strong role for fossil fuels on the global primary energy scene? As I wrote in a commentary on LinkedIn yesterday, the outlook for coal, nuclear and gas has significant ramifications for this country as a big trader in energy.

It’s also not a message reaching our voters or today’s high school kids (major users of the Internet and wholly dependent on our economic strength between 2025 and 2040).

But wait, there’s more

The International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook is fertile ground for anyone wanting to make a point and that certainly includes those boosting the credentials of variable renewable energy – although running a headline, as one booster here in Australia has done, declaring “IEA says wind, solar to provide 60% global electricity by 2040” is more than a bridge too far.

Central to the giant Outlook document (more than 650 pages) this year is two pieces of modeling – one extrapolates the abatement pledges nations took to Paris last December and the other reprises and updates modeling the agency itself took to Paris at end-2015 to suggest how countries could pursue the desired level of carbon in the atmosphere (450 ppm) in the second half of this century.

The latter is not a prediction; it is a scenario based on input chosen by the IEA modellers.

It is a very interesting perception of what might be and (though this is largely ignored by those wanting to boost the role of wind and solar) relies strongly on the belief that energy productivity can claw back power requirements from the 42,000 terawatt hour annual level towards which we are currently heading (ie “business as usual”) to where we would like to be in terms of abatement. In the agency scenario, generation sent out is reduced to just over 34,000 TWh.

The “450” scenario is obviously about a lot more than electricity and the IEA canvasses this at considerable length. One statistic I rather like as an example of the scope of the challenge is that the agency posits 700 million electric cars on the world’s roads by 2040 to reduce the demand for oil by billions of barrels.

And here’s the point at which in any such conversation, as I did at the ATSE “Beyond coal” symposium, I draw attention to the fact that viewing 2040 from 2016 is the same as viewing 2016 from 1992 – and didn’t we get that right!

For me, the more relevant IEA modeling is based on so-called “new policies” – the national plans the governments of the world presented in Paris – and this sees power generation rising from almost 24,000 TWh in 2014 to 29,500 TWh in 2025 and 39,000 TWh in 2040.

The IEA has been vociferous in pointing out that “new policies” will not deliver the 21st Century carbon target, but nonetheless it is what nations (including the US under Obama’s leadership) say they are going to do.

The “new policies” model for 2040 has coal-fired generation delivering some 10,800 TWh, gas units providing 8,900 TWh, hydro power more than 6,000 TWh and nuclear energy 4,500 TWh. In other words, based on what governments are committed to doing, the IEA sees 80 per cent of 2040 electricity coming from conventional sources (including of course new technologies in coal, gas and nuclear).

This model allocates just over 8,000 TWh to non-hydro renewable energy – which is not only wind and solar but also bio-energy, geothermal and marine power. Hydro-electric systems are the dominant source of renewable energy in this perspective, almost doubling the output of wind farms.

The big issue in discussing the role of technologies is actual generation output rather than plant capacity – gigawatt or megawatt hours rather than gigawatts and megawatts. It is only too obvious from the media that capacity factor is wholly lost on most reporters – and energetically ignored by those wanting to boost wind and solar.

Which brings us to the IEA modeling of its “450″ scenario.

The agency model (or should I say its advocacy) – again, I emphasize, it’s not a forecast – is that the contribution of coal to making power in 2040 should be clawed back to barely 2,500 terawatt hours while that of gas plant should be about 5,400 TWh.  Nuclear power in this model delivers more than 6,100 TWh, hydro nearly 7,000 TWh and “other renewables” (dominantly wind and solar) almost 13,000 TWh.

The boosters chose to focus on wind/solar rather than hydro even though the mooted contributions are roughly the same.

Getting from the “commitments” scenario to the “450” scenario in roughly a quarter century would be a gargantuan task, the scale of which is underscored by the IEA also offering an outlook for 2025. This envisages power generation output under “commitments” at 29,540 TWh (about a fifth more than now) and at almost 27,700 TWh under the “450” model, allowing strong productivity efforts to start to bite.

It sees the contribution from coal plant rise from 9,700 TWh now to almost 10,000 TWh in 2025 and fall back to little more than 7,000 TWh in the “450” model – and the output from gas power stations (just over 5,100 TWh now) staying virtually stable at 6,500 TWh in both scenarios.

Also modeled is a steady expansion for nuclear (from 2,535 TWh now to 3,405 TWh under the “commitment” and 3,685 TWh under the “450” model) and for hydro electricity – from almost 3,900 TWh now to nearly 4,900 TWh or almost 5,000 TWh.

The actual output of “other” renewables is seen as almost trebling (1,490 TWh now to 4,074 TWh in 2025) under the nations’ pledges or getting close to 5,000 TWh under the agency’s “450” scenario. This is substantial growth – the contribution from wind, solar and so forth shifting from six per cent at present to 14 or 18 per cent. I can understand that it’s cause for green celebration, but it’s hardly the “death of fossil fuels” so desired by ideologists.

Another point worth underscoring about the Outlook report is that the issue of reliability of supply (now high on the agenda here after the events in South Australia) is a global one: the IEA observes (deep in to its report) that the deployment of wind and solar at levels consistent with its “450” scenario, as well in some cases in the “commitment” scenario, “requires a significant upgrade in technical, institutional, policy and market design.”  Any system, the agency says, in which variable renewables face a regular risk of having their production curtailed “is taking an expensive and inefficient route to decarbonization.”

It acknowledges that its “450” scenario will require a massive re-allocation of global capital and this can’t be taken for granted.

There’s a salient sentence buried in the commentary: “In most countries (variable) renewables-based producers do not recover their investment from wholesale markets and, since their production depresses wholesale prices, they cut in to the investment recovering of existing conventional plants and can deter investment in new capacity.” Unless, of course, governments are forcing more capacity in to over-supplied markets willy-nilly through devices like the RET. Down this route, to quote the maps of a bygone age, there be dragons.

A report this size offers a multitude of avenues for thought (and game-playing).

Yet another take-away thought is this: the IEA sees very little growth in OECD demand for power from 2020 to 2040 – just over 10,000 terawatt hours a year to under 11,400 TWh – but its modeling indicates that the non-OECD consumption will rise from just over 13,100 TWh in 2020 to almost 23,000 TWh on present government plans. That’s growth equivalent to the current consumption of the US, the EU and Japan put together.  (For context, Australia’s current annual generation requirement is 25 terawatt hours and the pundits think it might be 30 TWh in 2040.)

Blind Freddy, alerted to these non-OECD numbers, must appreciate that the fate of international carbon abatement hopes rests squarely on what these countries require in the way of power and how they source it – which will not be through 60 per cent wind and solar.

Finally, I find it interesting, given the importance of natural gas in Australia’s trading life, that there has been little local media interest in the fact that the IEA sees the fuel playing an increasingly important role in the global energy mix over the next 24 years, being described by the agency executive director as “one of the big winners” along with wind and solar. From a national perspective, the ongoing call for gas, uranium and coal inherent in the IEA data should be of great significance – but focusing on this wouldn’t fit with the current social “vibe,” would it?

Message for Finkel

It’s hard to focus on bread-and-butter stuff when the meringue is hitting the fan.

A couple of hundred people crammed in to the Customs House hall in sultry Brisbane yesterday morning for the latest energy breakfast symposium were all talking on arrival about Trump’s American revolution rather than the matter at hand: “Is Australia heading in the right direction in energy and environment policy?”

It’s a credit to the panel addressing the question that the exit conversations two hours later seemed to be all about the local issue.

The “Energy Exchange” series, put on by the University of Queensland and the Energy Policy Institute of Australia, is an excellent forum that has maintained its standard over some five years, often featuring overseas experts.

The panel for the latest event, moderated by Origin Energy’s Heidi Cooper, comprised EPIA’s Bob Pritchard, consultant Jim Snow, UQ professor Simon Bartlett, one of Australia’s leading figures in power transmission, and Phil Richardson, a senior officer of the State Department of Energy & Water Supply, most recently engaged with the somewhat controversial Queensland government panel looking at renewable energy.

The discussion, including a wide-ranging Q&A with a knowledgeable audience, canvassed much of the ground covered by the recent “Re-powering NSW” conference and this week’s earlier symposium presented by the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering, both in Sydney. The ATSE event was the focus of my “Watch the time” post on Wednesday.

A summation of all these discussions, in response to the question posed by the UQ breakfast, would roughly be that we are heading in the right general direction but management of the process leaves a very great deal to be desired – and the possibility of more shocks like the recent South Australian blackout is not to be discounted.

My own take is that (a) we have a national carbon abatement target (albeit one to be reviewed in mid-2017) that requires a reduction in power station carbon intensity of about a third by 2030, (b) this goal is constantly rubbing up against an obsession to drive variable renewable energy and battery storage rather than focus on the main game of cutting emissions at the lowest possible cost, (c) the investment climate created by the political melee is not conducive to pursuing the goal efficiently and (d) the risks in terms of rising power costs and supply security issues are real and need attention right now.

In this context, Simon Bartlett made an observation yesterday that the bulk of variable renewables the Queensland government wants to see developed will be in the State’s north while 60 per cent of the load is in the south-east corner, posing interesting engineering (and cost) challenges in terms of security of supply.

Also in context, the EPIA has despatched a letter about the review of NEM energy security to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, suggesting he and his panel will be unable to avoid reaching five conclusions:

  • Energy security is paramount and, having ensured the lights stay on, the market can then optimize for price and emissions.
  • CoAG “has only ever paid lip service” to the principle of energy security and the need to base the supply system on technology neutrality and diversity.
  • CoAG “must take collective responsibility for weakening of system security in South Australia” by “allowing it to build up excessive dependence on intermittent energy.”
  • Our energy generation governance system is “at risk of becoming even more dysfunctional” without efficient and enduring climate policy.
  • CoAG “has known of these fundamental concerns for years and has been ineffective in addressing them.”

EPIA argues that the inability of the CoAG Energy Council and its advisers to act in a timely manner “has become a significant policy issue.”

It also argues that the national electricity objective set out in the law that governs the NEM – a target for green demands for a rewrite favoring their technology views – “remains fundamentally sound” and its aim to promote efficient investment for the long-term interests of consumers, having regard to the security of the supply system, should be left undisturbed.

In the institute’s view, the key problem is that the national energy governance system has not been designed for today’s more complex tasks dictated by climate goals and “there is an urgent need for a national vision to guide this work.”

As several people have pointed out to me in the past fortnight, our politicians (whether in government today or striving to be there tomorrow) have to come to terms with a basically quite simple proposition: if sacrificing power system reliability is unacceptable to the community (and it is), then we need to know now what level of investment is needed – very large, I’d argue – to maintain resilience and security in a system dominated by variable renewable energy?

In a phrase: total system cost and who pays it.

This brings us to the issue of whether the community will accept the cost in their power bills and as reflected by the impact on trade-exposed industry and on jobs? They demonstrated in 2013 that they did not like the relatively mild imposition of the Gillard/Swan carbon price. Should that rejection dictate the way ahead as the Paris agreement?

The contortions the Victorian and Queensland governments are going through at present to assert that the cost of their big renewables policies will be very little and that there is no cause for community alarm merely serve to demonstrate (to me at least) that this is eventually one of the bigger over-riding issues of the market transition.

Setting up Finkel’s panel is a rather desperate throw of the dice from politicians thoroughly spooked by the South Australian event. Are governments no longer capable of taking responsible decisions on issues of national interest without an inquiry to hold their hands? As this is apparently the case, the extent to which the review can speak truth to (political) power is now the single biggest immediate question for our local energy debate.

Watch the time

A four-letter word kept coming to mind as I participated in the “Beyond coal — what will power NSW?” symposium the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering staged in Sydney this week.

No, it was not any of the vulgar ones — although, as a paid-up grumpy old man, they, too, spring to mind increasingly often as I listen to people parading their wishes and hope-over-expectation notions in the public debate.

On this occasion the four-letter word was “time.”

Listening to a quite wide spectrum of ATSE forum speakers and panellists, I kept on being mentally nudged by the thought that our east coast gas and electricity market is in a constant state of flirtation with the risk that what needs to be done to deliver reliable, secure energy in pursuit of carbon abatement goals in the new decade at the least possible system cost will run hard against the anything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go wrong prospect. This has been already demonstrated to general dissatisfaction in South Australia, the possibility that it may be happening in Victoria can’t be ignored and the challenges faced in New South Wales (as trotted out through the day at the ATSE forum and late last month at the Quest Events’ “Re-powering NSW” conference I co-chaired) are not trivial.

The Baird government is now promising that its “advanced energy strategy” preliminary review will be available for stakeholder reaction “early next year” and this exercise interacts with the Finkel review for the Council of Australian Governments and the Energy Council’s need to respond to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission report on east coast gas supply.

A scenario offered to the ATSE event by power plant engineer David Tanner — that NSW in 2030 could have an electricity generation requirement of about 73,000 gigawatt hours to be met by a mix of 55 per cent coal (down from more than 70 per cent today), 25 per cent renewables (which would include a contribution from the Snowy Scheme) and most of the balance from gas plant (perhaps 5,000 MW versus about 6,800 MW for coal units and about three times today’s State capacity for variable renewable energy) at that point –exemplifies, for me, the time issue.

Fourteen years is a long time when you look at it from a personal level, but not from a planning, resourcing and development perspective. You only have to look at how the locusts have devoured the past five years since the Coalition swept back to office in NSW with respect to the State’s overall gas needs. Where things are today was being readily predicted in 2011-12 and it would be a brave person (and certainly no-one in manufacturing) who could profess to be sanguine about the state of play as we enter 2017. Still more so about the State having access (given the prevailing environment) to sufficient gas to meet both direct use requirements and the needs of a substantial generation sector by the middle of the next decade (no-one will plan a new gas generation development unless the fuel is demonstrably available at the start of project thinking).

The list of what needs to happen to deliver on Tanner’s scenario (not a prediction) is not short, the politics hanging over it are murky indeed, there are State elections in 2019 and 2023 that could be of critical importance and at least three federal elections between now and the middle of the decade that could be important to NSW’s prospects of being in a good energy place between 2025 and 2030.

The importance of policy is exemplified by a point made to the ATSE forum by AGL Energy’s Tim Nelson. He said that the national abatement plan being pursued by the Turnbull government — and when will that be back at the polls and what will its chances be of retaining office? —  requires the carbon intensity of east coast generation to be reduced by more than a third (down from 0.92 tonnes per megawatt hour to 0.66 tonnes).

There are lots of ways this can be pursued for NSW — efficiency upgrades on some existing large coal units and the closure of others, a much stronger effort on energy productivity,  a larger investment in utility-scale solar and wind farms, gas generation and (as was pushed by some participating in the ATSE forum) recourse to nuclear energy, especially small modular reactors. An obvious point is that a pragmatic answer lies in all or most of the above. But it surely is obvious — except to the naive and the ideologically bent — that the time required to pursue any such path if really long, especially when one takes in to account environmental development regulation.

Nelson made another good point at the forum: “Why should anyone (among investors) do anything?” he asked, given current policy uncertainty.

Which brings me to the contribution to the symposium by the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood.

Paraphrased, Wood told the meeting it should be obvious to us all that a fundamental transformation of the energy system is happening. “A realignment is under way.”

But, he emphasized, what we need is “credible, scalable policy that builds on current policies while pursuing a longer-term carbon target.”  And “our physical and financial systems need to be both reliable and affordable.”

He was not feeling kindly towards the CoAG Energy Council, slamming it as “probably one of the most dysfunctional bodies in the country,” declaring its member ministers to be “conflicted all over the place,” pointing to State governments “crawling over each other in competition for renewables” under a RET scheme he dismissed as “one of the worst pieces of public policy” — and saying that one of (federal Environment & Energy Minister) Josh Frydenberg’s biggest challenges is to get the States to stop acting parochially while they talk nationally.

“Neither doomsaying nor magic pudding thinking,” he added, “is an effective basis for policymaking.”

And he warned that the energy transformation is going to be “harder, messier, more disruptive and more expensive than has been communicated.” The public, he added, needs “the cost and the pain” of the transition properly communicated.

Wood is not the only one to raise the question of whether the “national” (that is east coast) electricity market is dead or just becoming irrelevant. I have heard a senior public servant at State level describe it as “antiquated and ripe for change.”

Now dealing effectively with all this is a pretty big ask — and has been literally for years. Yet here we are — and the jawboning just at governments’ level is seemingly endless.

My perception is that, if we continue to have governments and political leaders more generally pursue the transition on the basis of what is popular with an often energy-illiterate population and/or on what they think are technology winners, we are collectively going to end up in 2030 in as much trouble as a fish at a cats’ picnic.

Which is why that four-letter word — time — preys on my mind when I participate in these discussions.


Hazelwood & hyperbole

Few things were more predictable than that Engie making public its decision to shutter Hazelwood power station would trigger bursts of hyperbole from the usual suspects.

It’s all there on the Internet and it would be tiresome indeed to call out even some of the “beginning of the end for coal” commentary, although “coal is over” from the Greens’ Adam Bandt is worth a mention. What does he make, I wonder, of three plants of similar total capacity to Hazelwood currently being built in Brazil, among 2,400 coal-fuelled generation units under construction or being planned around the world?

The local hard coal fact is that brown and black versions of the fuel provided 75.9 per cent of NEM electricity production in the 12 months to September; Hazelwood’s share of the market is about five per cent.

Engie’s senior manager in Australia, Alex Keisser, nailed things yesterday when he commented that “the historical direction is to go to less coal” but a transition will be the work of “a few decades” and “needs to be done in a very considered manner.”

The Hazelwood decision is a great deal about economics despite Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (who tripled the State’s brown coal royalty in his last budget) insisting yesterday that it is “simply” about Engie wanting to get out of coal generation globally.

Keisser says Engie has considered a range of options to revamp the power station, including switching to natural gas, “and the power price today didn’t make these options viable.”  His boss, Isabelle Kocher, has put out a media statement in France observing that the planned closure of Hazelwood in March is in line with the company’s global strategy to gradually end its coal activities, concentrating on low-carbon power generation, including gas, but adding: “Hazelwood has been operating in difficult market conditions, with low market prices and a surplus of supply.”

The company is also going to put up its other Victorian brown coal plant, Loy Yang B, for sale,  and there could be quite a lot of investor interest in this 953 MW operation with its ability to offer lower wholesale prices than black coal operators in New South Wales. It’s half the age of Hazelwood.

Beyond the deep green flag waving, the key issue on the east coast is really not hard to see — the power market is bulging with capacity (with more to come in a short period through the requirements of the RET) and there is deep uncertainty about where supply is heading in terms of price, reliability and security.

In a properly planned environment, the Australian Energy Council CEO Matthew Warren points out, investors would already be well advanced in delivering the right mix of lower-emitting generation to replace Hazelwood’s 1,600 megawatt capacity. “Instead everyone is asking ‘what happens next?’ because there is no national plan.”

The result, Warren says, is “investment gridlock” and growing uncertainty for the business community and the mass market.

This perspective is reinforced by Mark Collette, head of energy markets at EnergyAustralia, who comments that the NEM “is in a very uncertain place” because there is not enough confidence to invest in refurbishing other old plants or “reliable, despatchable new plants.”

Malcolm Roberts, CEO of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, chimed in yesterday to urge the federal and State governments to use the Hazelwood decision as further impetus for development of a “national electricity blueprint.”

The NEM, Roberts adds, was established nearly 20 years ago “to eliminate the waste and political games of separate State systems” and governments need again to commit to co-ordinated action. “There can be a healthy debate about the size of the national renewable energy target but few would argue that a patchwork of State targets is efficient,” he says.

Not surprisingly, APPEA wants Victoria in particular to focus on developing a new electricity supply mix including both gas and renewables.  “With gas the only option for reliable back-up to intermittent renewable sources,” Roberts declares, ” Victoria’s ban on onshore gas development makes no environmental or energy policy sense.  This is especially true for the political moratorium on conventional gas developments.

I thought it interesting yesterday that a solemn Josh Frydenberg, federal Environment & Energy Minister, listed three key points in his media conference: first, looking after the Hazelwood workers and the Latrobe Valley community more generally, second energy security and third electricity costs.

And Tom Koutsantonis, South Australia’s Treasurer and Energy Minister, writing in an Adelaide newspaper, comments that “the NEM is extremely complex and will take time to adjust to the withdrawal of Hazelwood.”  Koutsantonis also notes that Engie has a contracted position in the market that it will need to cover and, he says hopefully, this may mean that “the nation’s most efficient gas generator (Pelican Point in SA), which is currently running at only 50 per cent of capacity, may be required to help cover that position.”  And, one adds, to help cover South Australia from the problems in to which it has plunged this year.

In passing, it is worth noting that Australian energy veteran Trevor St Baker has signalled that he could be interested in buying Hazelwood through his Sunset Power International business. Sunset acquired the languishing Vales Point black coal power station in the Hunter Valley from the New South Wales government last November. St Baker told a newspaper he thought half the Hazelwood units could be “kept in fairly good service.”

So ranting  about Hazelwood’s fate signalling the “end of coal” may be a bit misplaced. Or, to quote the Minerals Council of Australia yesterday, “brown coal should not be written off.”



A few simple tweaks?

After sifting through a small mountain of news and views in the past few days ahead of writing the November issue of Coolibah Commentary, and also ahead of co-chairing the “Re-powering New South Wales” conference in Sydney this week, I have come to the conclusion that the coconut for the most sensible, laymen-friendly comment on the South Australian saga should go to my friend Tim Nelson.

He is AGL Energy’s head of economics, policy and sustainability and also an adjunct associate professor at Griffith University. In a personal view, he sums up the post-blackout debate like this (my paraphrase): It’s too early to talk definitively about “causes” given the complex nature of the electricity system –- and the “renewables versus conventional” tone of the public shouting match is not the issue. When you boil it all down, the key issue is that, by 2030, given our national commitment to carbon abatement, the east coast electricity market as a whole will need to have a similar emissions intensity to that of South Australia today.

Nelson opines that, if left to market forces alone, the transition “will be disorderly.”

He (rightly in my view) adds that there is a “unique opportunity” for Chief Scientist Alan Finkel (and his still unnamed associates) to recommend a reshaping of national energy policy to “resolve the trilemma of security, competitiveness and reduced emissions.”

While South Australia may be in the spotlight still, with Victoria’s and Queensland’s renewables-happy governments bobbing in and out of the media and political footlights, the biggest stage for the playing out of this drama remains NSW – with three million residential customers, 300,000 businesses, more than 60,000 gigawatt hours of annual consumption and 10,000 megawatts of black coal generation.

What the power future holds for the “premier State” is not only the focus of this week’s “Re-powering NSW” forum but also of a symposium being staged on 8 November by the Energy Policy Institute and the Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering on “Beyond coal: what will power NSW?”

Central to both events is one question: how rapidly can low-emission technologies displace existing (and ageing) coal generation in NSW and what are the technical challenges in integrating them in to the State’s power system?

It should be mentioned here that the Coalition government in NSW is out and about asserting that “security, reliability and affordability of supply” is at the core of its energy policy and that “strengthening the diversity of supply” is critical to success in this endeavor. State Energy Minister Anthony Roberts says that the NEM framework, the functions of the CoAG Energy Council and the rule-change process are all designed for the past’s incremental changes and are not coping with the “rapid evolution” of today.

Roberts, like his counter-parts in South Australia and Tasmania (and perhaps in the federal government?), is keen on more high voltage interconnection. Nelson (in the above-mentioned personal perspective) cautions politicians to be careful about charging down this route “because regulated assets lock in long-term costs for consumers.”

In Nelson’s view, “a few simple policy tweaks” – generator closure rules, stapling “firm” capacity to renewable investment policies and a cautious approach to network infrastructure spending – could be the way to provide better consumer and community outcomes and a better climate for investors.

In this context, it is interesting to see the AGL Energy chairman, Jerry Maycock, speaking at the company’s recent AGM, calling for three key policy steps:

  • Orderly retirement of emissions-intensive power plant (of which his business owns more than a little), suggesting the age-based limitations on generation in Canada as an example.
  • Redesign of the NEM to value both firm capacity and energy, urging “new thinking” because, he says, a traditional capacity market is unlikely to be the answer.
  • Development of a “robust and nationally-consistent” approach to incentivizing new renewable generation.

The point at which a fair-sized raft of stakeholders will diverge from Maycock & Co, I suggest, is the last one – and both the “Re-powering” and EPIA/ATSE forums are going to see presenters speaking out for consideration of the merits of nuclear energy, gas generation and new-technology coal power in the electricity future of NSW (and more broadly across Australia). This is the “fuel neutral” approach that still seems to bounce off governments, would-be governments and media hounds alike.

EPIA, in promoting the November forum, suggests that the “investment challenge” for NSW between now and 2030 could be of the order of $70 billion, which is not a small sum even if you say it quickly.

Getting the real elements of this challenge in to the public debate regrettably seems a Sisyphean task (as in extremely effortful and, to date at least, futile), not least because of what I see a high profile academic commentator (in the current issue of the “Weekend Australian”) describing in these terms: “Rushing to judgment is something the entire political class now does, egged on by a media culture built on rapid change and moving parts that create good theatre.”  This is true, but not a reason for discontinuing efforts to roll the rock of energy strategy up the hill as this week’s conference and the November 8 symposium will once again set out to do.

The bottom line in NSW is that the generation mix in the State today is 79 per cent coal, seven per cent gas and 14 per cent renewables. Of the latter, 32 per cent is provided by Snowy Hydro and seven per cent by small-scale hydro plants, with wind accountable for 18 per cent, solar 32 per cent and bio-energy 11 per cent.  Shifting from here towards a market that overall has the same generation emissions intensity as does South Australia today is a huge task that (the SA experience seems to indicate) can only too readily go wrong.

SA’s contribution to NEM supply (in gigawatt hours) is just 6.3 per cent compared with 32.6 per cent for NSW (and 26.7 per cent for Victoria or 27.8 per cent for Queensland).

I keep seeing South Australia referred to a “a canary down the coal mine” in this game. What does that make NSW? An ostrich?

It’s not magic

Coincidental with the publication of the Queensland government’s panel report on how a high State renewable energy target can be chased is another in London by the British energy regulator (Ofgem) that includes a statement highly relevant to the debate here: “In our view, typically the best way to get the best deal for consumers (and competitiveness for industry) is likely to be to tackle key externalities and let market dynamics drive decisions where possible.”

In the same vein, this time emanating from Oxford, is a new commentary by Dieter Helm, the British Treasury’s favourite energy economist, in which he excoriates the European approach to energy and climate policy as “a marriage of two different and often-conflicting objectives: to promote and enhance competitive energy markets, which are technologically neutral, and to promote the climate agenda in a deliberately technologically biased way, outside and separate from the competitive markets.”

Helm condemns the European Union’s 2030 renewables plan as “a dog’s dinner.”

For those here who think, to quote them, “we are on the cusp of a revolutionary global paradigm shift towards renewable energy,” the EU path represents the yellow brick road and they, including the Victorian, ACT and Queensland governments, are in a rush to push Australia down it.

Queensland Energy Minister Mark Bailey believes the draft report he has just published on pursuit of his government’s target of a 50 per cent renewables target is a “breakthrough” development, asserting (with an eye on the recent flurry of CoAG Energy Council activity after the South Australian blackout and of the Alan Finkel report that he and other ministers have just commissioned) that it shows his State can develop its grand plan “while maintaining electricity security and reliability over the next 14 years.”

In the light of recent events, that is potentially what Sir Humphrey (of “Yes Minister” fame) would describe as a “courageous” stance.

Certainly the Australian Energy Council, representing generators and retailers, is not impressed.

CEO Matthew Warren declares that transforming the Queensland system will requires a multi-billion dollar investment over decades that will have to be paid for by the State’s consumers or taxpayers. “It’s not magic,” he says.

Warren warns that the approach proposed in the draft report to grease the wheels of a forced transition to wind and solar power will “dull price signals” in the Queensland sub-market that are needed to flag to owners and developers of both thermal and renewable generation where and when to build new plant.

The draft report, he adds, expects a high level of renewable generation to be approximately cost-neutral to Queensland consumers if all existing coal and gas power stations operate at reduced margins. Given that the State government owns two-thirds of Queensland generation, this would transfer the true transition cost to its taxpayers.

For the Energy Networks Association, the report just highlights the importance of a national approach to carbon and energy policy.

CEO John Bradley notes that the Palaszczuk government is focusing on just one policy option – variable renewable energy – and he challenges the panel and the politicians to dwell on the right question: which he says is what is the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions while keeping the lights on?

Bradley points to work recently by the federal Climate Change Authority, using the same consultants as the panel, Jacobs, that found technology-specific targets result in higher-cost carbon abatement. Like AEC, ENA wants a national policy on cleaner energy to be pursued with clear abatement targets. That way, Bradley argues, “consumers will pay less and energy security can be better managed.”

The government panel says in its executive summary that “significant (State) policy action will be required to reach the 50 per cent target,” with between 4,000 and 5,000 megawatts of new large-scale generation capacity needed to be developed in Queensland between 2020 and 2030.

The government intends to launch legislation to give effect to its scheme in 2017. By then, apart from CoAG having received the Finkel review (at least the interim report), Palaszczuk & Co will have had to release the Queensland productivity Commission report on electricity pricing. This was handed to the government at the end of May and must be made public by December.

The draft QPC report was published in February this year and told the government “in order to achieve least-cost carbon abatement, (it) should work with the COAG Energy Council to find opportunities for collaboration on carbon policy, as an alternative to pursuing independent action.”

The QPC observed (seven months before the South Australian twin events) that “one of the challenges for governments at the national and State level is to provide a clear framework for lower emissions generation in a way that supports the market to make the transition to the delivery of reliable and cost efficient electricity supply.”

Modelling done for the commission found that the introduction of a QRET would require 37,250 GWh of renewables generation annually by 2030. The target would need to be primarily met by around 19,000 GWh of additional large scale renewables generation, an increase of about 17,600 GWh over 2015 — and would require a subsidy of some $8.6 billion.

In the interests of transparency, State Treasurer Curtis Pitt should release the QPC final report now that his government is waving around the draft renewables panel document.

Its LNP political opponents argue that the numbers in the new document are “a fudge.”

Meanwhile, in Parliament House, Canberra, this week, Prime Minister Turnbull (in Question Time) accused Labor of treating renewable energy as an ideological issue rather than a technological one. “We must stop putting ideology in to something that is essentially an engineering issue,” he said.

All of which underscores that what we have here – and not just in Queensland – is a “dog’s dinner,” as Dieter Helm asserts.

How exactly the Finkel report and further CoAG discussion can deliver a path to the approach advocated by Ofgem (and others) is one of the biggest national questions.

A path down the mountain

In the context of the past fortnight’s hubbub over wind-struck South Australia and its ensuing electricity woes, it’s more than a little interesting to read a report in the “Wall Street Journal” about how Hurricane Matthew is “stress-testing a costly effort by utilities and the US government to make the electric grid more storm-resistant.”

According to the paper, the bill for smart grid and storm-hardening technology in America from 2008 to 2017 will amount to $US32 billion ($US7 billion of which has been spent in Florida and the Carolinas, which have borne the brunt of Matthew’s force). The purpose of this exercise is to make the grid more resistant to wind, flying debris and floods as well as to enable power providers to identify damage and restore service more quickly.

The Obama administration has contributed $US4.5 billion to the cost through a bill passed by Congress in 2009, part of the post-GFC stimulus package. (One may recall en passant that Kevin Rudd’s regime chose to spend money inefficiently on pink batt insulation.)

The overall US outlay has included provision of 65 million smart (digital) meters, almost a third of the American total, as well as equipment that automatically isolates problems and re-routes electricity flow around trouble spots.

As it happens, 2009 was roughly when the Australian federal and east coast governments were looking at network resilience and facilitating the regulator allowing $35 billion to be spent on the east coast grid. Did the policymakers and their advisers also look at what the Americans were up to and consider a similar approach here? Manifestly not.

As I have pointed out previously, it’s pretty hard to hold off Nature when it comes to weather-proofing the system. More than two million households and businesses lost supply in Florida and the Carolinas per kind favor of Matthew – although 901,000 of 957,000 Florida Power & Light customers had service restored within 24 hours. (Let’s not forget that the same was done for some 750,000 South Australian customers.)

The focus in these situations inevitably falls not on fast recovery but on the thousands stranded without supply for days. Here the situation is similar in SA and Florida.

The broader American effort is directed not just on here-and-now utility resilience but also on the future.

The Obama administration announced in March that it is making $US220 million available over three years to research laboratories for innovation to make power grids “cleaner, more productive and more secure.”

Australia’s NEM is the world’s longest electricity system, but of course by no means the biggest; America, in effect, has three NEMs (interconnected state systems with much larger customer numbers) plus stand-alone Texas, delivering electricity from thousands of power plants to 150 million accountholders (our NEM has 9.4 million) via 3,300 utility businesses (less than 50 here).

One of the things we have in common is that a substantial part of these grids is made up of infrastructure and technology dating back to the 1970s and inevitably straining to meet growing service demand let alone the challenges of a transition involving increasing levels of variable renewable energy.

Whether one believes that climate change is the cause or not, it’s a fact that significant weather events are more frequent at this time and an important factor in grid management today. In the case of the US, there are now 70 to 130 major outages a year related to weather, reportedly a lot more than in the 1980s and 1990s.

The full cost of making grids much more resilient is eye-watering (and wallet weakening, a significant political issue in Australia these days, as we all know).

The Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, puts the cost for the US alone at somewhere between $US338 billion and $US476 billion. It also estimates the American economic benefits of pursuing these outlays at up to $US2 trillion.

The US Secretary for Energy, Ernest Moniz, says Florida P&L is on the cutting edge of “addressing a grid for the 21st century, particularly in the area of resilience.”

Which, for me, resonates with a point I made in my previous post, in which I asked what the CoAG Energy Council is really asking Alan Finkel to do in his review after the SA blackout political (and media) shenanigans?

Reading various local commentaries over the past few days, I have the impression that the Chief Scientist is being tasked as a modern Moses, expected to return from Mount Hyperbole with tablets to solve all our energy transition ills.

It might, from where I am sitting, be bold of him to instead come back and say “I got this gig because the body politic (and the media) had kittens about SA being blacked out; here is what is needed to address this issue for Australian grids.”

In this respect, a trip to Florida might be a good starting point, with a stop-over in Washington DC for a chat with the estimable Moniz, former MIT professor of physics and Obama’s Energy Secretary since 2013, in which role he has been a stand-out among the world’s current crop of energy portfolio holders.

“Modernizing the electrical grid is essential to reducing carbon emissions, creating safeguards against attacks on our infrastructure and keeping the lights on,” Moniz said recently.

Perhaps, in a nutshell, this is the key message Finkel (and his yet-to-be-announced pair of review colleagues) need to deliver to Frydenberg and the Energy Council (and beyond them to Turnbull and other leaders) even if it leaves numerous of the local energy chattering class in an ongoing froth.