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Zero emissions power is possible, and we know what it will cost

To avoid 2 degrees of climate change, global carbon emissions will need to be reduced by at least 50% by 2050. For developed countries such as Australia with higher carbon emissions this will mean cuts…

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s latest report lays out what it will cost to switch on to renewable power.

To avoid 2 degrees of climate change, global carbon emissions will need to be reduced by at least 50% by 2050. For developed countries such as Australia with higher carbon emissions this will mean cuts closer to 80%: it essentially implies decarbonising the stationary energy sector in Australia. Several studies have now tackled the question of how to achieve this, and despite different approaches and different assumptions they’ve come up with rather similar results.

The cost of changing

Current wholesale electrical energy costs are around $60 per megawatt hour (MWh).

Previous studies from Beyond Zero Emissions and the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW report a range of between $100 and $173/MWh, depending on a range of technology-cost assumptions.

This week the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released their draft 100% Renewables Report, costing the system at between $111 and $133/MWh across four scenarios with different timelines and cost projections.

Each of the above studies has its own drawbacks and none can claim to be all-inclusive, but they all cost their 100% renewable systems at between $100 and $170/MWh. Current wholesale prices are around $60/MWh so this represents an increase of between $40 and $110/MWh.

For retail customers this is the same as an increase of between 4 and 11c/kWh. As most customers currently pay around 25c/kWh this would be an increase of roughly 16 to 45%, a modest number when we consider that retail energy prices have gone up by around 30% since 2008, due mainly to increased transmission and distribution costs.

There are two ways of presenting this result. First that the cost of producing energy will increase by up to a factor of 3. Or second that the increase is in line with the recent increases, which while unpleasant did not result in the end of the world for most of us.

How did they come up with that price?

The AEMO 100% Renewables Report identified the cheapest combination of technologies and locations needed to meet demand while taking into account transmission costs for linking it all together.

AEMO considered a broader range of technologies than the other studies and only outright rejects off-shore wind as too expensive compared to the alternatives. On-shore wind, solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power with storage are all significant contributors, but wave power, hydro, biomass and biogas also play important roles.

Most interestingly the study comes out in favour of significant amounts of geothermal power), at least in the scenario with large and rapid global uptake of renewable technologies (and therefore larger decreases in costs). The previous studies only considered technologies that are already commercially available somewhere in the world; hot sedimentary aquifer technology is still very much in the developmental stage.This means there is large uncertainty on the future costs and whether or not this is truly a viable option.

But regardless of the uncertainty, the benefits of geothermal energy are significant – a zero emissions electricity source that can provide base load power. For this reason, despite the relatively high cost, the AEMO model finds cost worth the benefit of being able to manage additional variable renewables on the grid.

Figure 1: The mix of generation sources considered in the report. AEMO

The role of peak demand

Another key factor in the AEMO study is that it includes demand-side participation, where users of electricity have some incentive to shift their use to different times of the day to better suit when power is available. The model estimates that 10% of electrical energy use is flexible and can be shifted to other times of the day.

Figure 2 shows a shift of the peak demand from the late afternoon to the middle of the day, coinciding with the peak in rooftop solar output. This would mean that what we currently think of as off-peak would occur in the middle of the day rather than overnight. Using power overnight would in fact be discouraged by time of use pricing.

Figure 2: The shift in peak demand. AEMO

Work still needed

There are of course a range of caveats that come with the study. Increases in the cost of distribution resulting from lots of rooftop solar are not included. Nor are the costs of acquiring the land required. Also, importantly it assumes all the generation is built in the future when costs have come down rather than gradually from now which would incur larger costs.

There is still much work to be done to refine the modeling work. As I discussed in another Conversation piece, the study doesn’t do everything. It doesn’t do the transition from the current infrastructure and it doesn’t consider the likely scenario that some fossil fuel will persist, especially if carbon capture and storage becomes viable.

But one message is clear – going to a very high penetration of renewables is certainly not technically impossible, and will not be as expensive as we may have thought.

Join the conversation

89 Comments sorted by

  1. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Some of the assumptions don't seem like too much of a stretch, for example some load shifting to daytime. Other assumptions are tenuous. After a decade or so of effort we've only just this week apparently got 10 MWe of output from dry rock geothermal. I believe biogas from fermentation best suits the tropics (yes I know about Swedish trains) and thermally gasified biomass is not ready for prime time.

    True we have survived huge electricity price increases with the loss of manufacturing and…

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Newlands

      Thanks for your comments John. When you are dealing with 40 years into the future almost all the assumptions are going to be wrong. We can hope that we can get close most of the time. I am not very confident in the cost projections for geothermal, but I wouldn't have predicted the sudden decrease in the cost of PV either.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to John Newlands

      In response to the oil shocks of the 1970's, Rocketdyne Corp produced for the US Army a Flywheel energy storage unit capable of driving battlefied tanks and other heavy equipment.
      The "engine equivalent" was tested in underground coal shuttle vehicles which operated for an hour and one half with a recharge period of fifteen minutes,
      These results were presented in a paper for the First International Symposium on Energy Storage held in Dubrovnik in the Former Yugoslavia in 1979, under the auspices…

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  2. David Collett

    IT Application Developer at Web Generation

    It's good to see Beyond Zero getting a mention. I remember seeing them a few years ago at a sustainability conference.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Collett

      Thanks David - lots of folks said the BZE report was hopelessly optimistic - the AEMO report is not exactly validation but demonstrates that while it no doubt is still optimistic, it's not crazy.

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    2. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      The BZE Report was a joke! Train's powered by batteries that would have to be hundreds of tonnes and absolutely no mention of how they intended to replace the diesel burnt to sow and harvest our wheat.

      In 2010 the report claimed Australia could be powered by 100% renewables by 2020, which is a little over six years from now.

      To top it off a lead author of the report flew to Spain, courtesy of Jet A1 fuel naturally, to view their renewable program.

      After falling down a cliff and having to be rescued by a helicopter, again powered by Jet A1 Fuel, he returned to Australia saying Spain was heading in the right direction.

      Unfortunately his prediction was wrong because Spain is now an economic basket case and it's best and brightest are desperate to come to work in coal fired Australia.

      Keep dreaming boys and girls as you buckle up on your next A380 Flight.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Zvyozdochka

      Excellent point - Elliston et al. show in their BAU that under certain cost assumptions the 100% case is no more expensive that rebuilding a fossil fuel system.

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  3. Leon Carter

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    The products of the reaction between hydrocarbons and oxygen are carbon dioxide and water. So burning hydrocarbons produces exactly the same reactants required for photosynthesis. In case anyone forgot the simplified version of the balanced chemical equation from high school biology class, here it is:
    6 x CO2 + 6 H2O ---> 1 x C6H12O6 + 6 O2
    i.e. six molecules of carbon dioxide "pollution" react with six molecules of water to produce just one molecule of glucose and six molecules of oxygen.

    Note…

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    1. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Leon Carter

      "Petroleum is a 100% renewable energy supply, "

      Sure, how long have you got?

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  4. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    Since a large part of the power envisaged seems to come from geothermal and concentrated solar, which Australia has thus far failed so much as to even construct a working, viable prototype, then I assume these numbers come from the Reinhart-Rogoff school of economic modelling.

    Ie, great for partisans to throw out in debate but of little use as a reliable guide to likely outcomes.

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    1. Robert McDougall

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      I would say that any lack of a large scale working prototype could be more attributable to political obfuscation and lack of support than an inherent fault in the concept.

      Classic case being Ralph Sarich having to go overseas to develop the orbital engine.

      Sadly the power elite and their puppets are still making too much money out of fossil fuels to make the transition easily.

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      We do not make solar PV panels here either but they work. Is there some insight into the Southern Hemisphere that we are missing?

      BTW partisan? I assume that is anyone who does not deny science.

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  5. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    So-called renewable energy sources are not renewable. They require extraction of something out of the ground, and the EROI is often low.

    As well, Australia only emits 1.5% of CO2 world wide, and if we were to cut our emission to zero, it would have minimal effect world wide.

    I have a better solution, which would be to make sure we save our country first.

    This would involve continuing with coal and gas fired power stations for our power supply but a halt to any new coal mines to export coal, an immediate halt to immigration and artificially increasing our population so that it consumes more, and large scale reafforestation of barely viable agriculture land.

    Totally cost effective, no negatives at all, and all positives.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      So 23 million Australian's produce "only" 1.5% of the world's anthropogenic carbon emissions. If you take 23 million Chinese or Indians their emissions will be a small fraction of that. 23 million French or British produce way less than 23 million Australians. Does the way we divide up the world's population into nations somehow mean that smaller nations have a greater right to pollute the atmosphere?

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    2. Mark Pollock

      Analyst

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Maybe we should do like the French and British and build lots of cheap reliable nuclear reactors. Then we wouldn't need to convert millions of hectares of useful lend to ridiculously inefficient biomas production.

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    3. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Mark Pollock

      You mean those reactors that EDF won't build in England unless they get a guaranteed price of 140 Pounds/MWh? Real cheap.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      So-called non-renewables pollute.

      Every time something is made, it pollutes, and that includes non-renewables.

      But I would like to see Australia’s total CO2 production after large scale reafforestation, with population stabilisation and also emphasis on reducing human consumption.

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    5. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      95 pounds per MWh is only AUD 14c/kWh.

      Tell me again how much the solar proponents demand to be paid in inflated feed-in tariffs for low-capacity-factor, low-dispatchability energy? Only 50-60c/kWh, right?

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  6. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter

    I read as far as this:

    "Roger Dargaville receives funding from Australian Renewable Energy Agency."

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      Well no one should poke fun at you. Particularly today. Have you considered remedial reading classes?

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    2. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      The Oxford English Dictionary's lexicographers have long had a problem identifying a precise antonym for "polymath". With you as a seconder, Sir, may I submit some suggestions? 1. (noun) A leighburrell; or 2. (noun) A gregnorth.

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    3. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to George Harley

      Already plenty of names for people who value the opinion of industry shills - dupe, sucker, mug, patsy, and so on.

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    4. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Ever been called a Greentard? Love that one

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  7. John C Smith

    Auditor

    How on earth we could get Zero CO2 emissions in a world whre life is based on C2?

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    1. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to John C Smith

      I blame it all on narrow minded parents denying their children the right to read the Holy Trinity. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.

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    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to George Harley

      George, I could add "The Road" Cormac McCarthy for adults. A book which has kicked me upright since.

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to John C Smith

      Um, I think we were talking about zero emissions from electricity generaytion and I don't believe life grows out of the smoke stack of a power station...do pay attention, John.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Ben McCombe

      The AETA numbers for nuclear don't include decommissioning costs (as the authors reported they couldn't find any reliable numbers). Those costs are probably fairly high. I like to refer to the IEA ETP2012 publication figure 2.4 and page 69 for nuclear costs of between $US3900 and $US5900/kW assuming that building in Australia would be comparable to Europe rather than Asia (where it is $US1560 to $US3000/kW).

      I'm not anti-nuclear, and I appreciate that nuclear has an excellent safety record compared…

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    2. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      It is a bit deceptive to compare the cost of an 80% nuclear solution to the cost of a 100% renewables solution. Of course satisfying the baseload demand is quite cheap - it is matching the peaks that is the expensive part.

      And he comes up with a wholesale price of $125/MWh for nuclear anyway. And then claims it won't increase electricity prices?

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    3. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      I'm not aware of any nuclear proponents that dont see a partial role for cheap, affordable renewables (basically wind, and existing hydro).

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    4. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Wil B

      That is a bit disingenuous Wil given that for years the BNCers have been linking to climate science denier and anti-renewables campaigner Peter Lang's now totally debunked critique of the BZE plan.

      I read your link and at least Martin Nicholson is on the same planet as the rest of us.

      He states
      "The AEMO study using 100 per cent renewables estimated wholesale electricity prices in the range of $111/MWh to $133/MWh. My wholesale electricity price estimate for a combination of nuclear and renewables, based on the CSIRO eFuture model, is in the range $124/MWh to $126/MWh. As this is in the middle of the AEMO range, wholesale prices are likely to be similar with or without nuclear."

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    5. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      I don’t think much of Peter Lang so certainly won’t jump to his defence, but I’m unaware of the “total debunking” of his analysis, and I’m also not convinced his was the only work that was highly critical. Ted Trainer for one was also very sceptical.

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    6. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      Deceptive? Why? Indeed, that's pretty much the point - that a 100%-anything solution (and the corollary, arbitrarily excluding demonstrably viable solutions) is necessarily going to be more expensive (and not just in money) than one which has all options on the table.

      How much more? Let's find out. Surely Nicholson's bottom line "The DCCEE must request AEMO to perform a further study to consider a scenario including nuclear power" isn't unreasonable. It should happen - and in so doing keep a very close watch on whether meeting baseload with geothermal, biomass and wave is really going to be 'quite cheap'.

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    7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Even if an enquiry found that nuclear was safe and cost effective, is it realistic to think that this could get enough public support to become the policy of both major parties both federally and in the state(s) where the plants will be built?

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    8. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Only if a consensus builds, over time. No of course the committed sorts like Jim Green at FoE will never change their mind, but there's a reasonable hope that if enough people are exposed to the actual facts about nuclear power, then within a decade or so there will be a groundswell of support for nuclear power in Australia.

      Although opponents still like to rely on falsehoods such as that nuclear power proponents are paid stooges and right-wing climate deniers, there are enough people saying this is utter nonsense that it can't be maintained. I for example (not that I'm anyone) am probably to the left of Australia's political mainstream*, am strongly committed to action on climate change and am still relatively young. No one will ever pay me one red cent to spruik nuclear power for Australia, but I'll keep doing it.

      * I'd vote for the greens apart from three issues (forestry, GMOs, nuclear power).

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    9. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Wil B

      Those promoting nuclear on The Conversation are so politically naive that an anti-nuclear campaign could be run using quotes from them.

      I find it strange that you think the few hundred jobs in forestry are so important compared to the literally tens of thousands who have been retrenched by say our Telcos and banks as they restructure. (Not that even the Greens want all forestry to close - we want sustainable wood that doesnt' damage old growth).

      And of equal importance to these few forestry…

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    10. Ben McCombe

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      I'm glad that unlike many proponents of renewables you recognise that the safety aspects of nuclear are nowhere near as bad as many think. it is indeed very safe, especially when we are talking about new builds using current GEN III and III+ designs and future GEN IV. It is extremely safe technology. I'm glad you will be including in your research and look forward to seeing it.

      Which leaves us with the economics argument, but first I want to be very clear. I am not proposing we move to '100% nuclear…

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    11. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben McCombe

      I made no comment above about my view of nuclear safety nor the economic viability. I said EVEN IF an enquiry found.

      You also don't respond to my point that EVEN IF an enquiry found that nuclear was safe and economic, is it realistic to think that this could get enough public support to become the policy of both major parties both federally and in the state(s) where the plants will be built?

      If your concern was action on climate change I believe that your first priority would be to support actions to start the reduction of emissions from stationary power. Nuclear will play no part in our initial response, and I believe that posts supporting nuclear are either a deliberate distraction or a misguided distraction from addressing the issues of what to do over the next few years.

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    12. Ben McCombe

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You will be surprised that in a poll taken by ipsos mori global in 2012 that support for nuclear had risen to 44% in Australia. This was from memory a 16% jump after a similar poll taken in in 2011 not long after Fukushima.

      Yes there is lots of opposition, and the NIMBY problem will be a challenge, but I prefer to advocate for solutions that bear up under through examination. If they are unpopular you then work hard at convincing people of the facts and change public opinion.

      Just as people…

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    13. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Ben McCombe

      Your posting here just promoting nuclear in response to an article that shows that 100% renewable is possible (without nuclear) is a distraction.

      It seems to me that if climate change wasn't a problem you would be just as passionate about nuclear, and you are using climate change merely as an excuse to promote nuclear.

      Nuclear could be a part of a long term response - but it can't be an early response.

      If you have any concern for climate change what do you think we should be doing in the next few years?

      PS - Your posts about safety etc are irrelevant to my points (and the article above) so I admit I have not read most of your last two posts.

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    14. Ben McCombe

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I think we are confusing who we are responding to. My initial post was replying to Roger Darnville not you.

      "Ben McCombe

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      I'm glad that unlike many proponents of renewables you recognise that"

      Likewise that last post from me was supposed in response to your earlier post.

      "Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      In reply to Wil B

      Those promoting nuclear on The Conversation are so politically naive that an anti-nuclear campaign could be run using quotes from them".

      This is one of the problems with how the conversation structures it's comment section. It's hard to see exactly which comment someone is responding too.

      What I will say, my posts are long, but I really hope people read them in full before commenting on them.

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    15. Ben McCombe

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben McCombe

      Sorry was an even earlier comment you made that I responded too:

      "Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Even if an enquiry found that nuclear was safe and cost effective, is it realistic to think that this could get enough public support to become the policy of both major parties both federally and in the state(s) where the plants will be built?"

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    16. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Ben McCombe

      Ben, your posts are very long, but it is refreshing to read posts on nuclear energy based on facts and solid argument.

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    17. Zvyozdochka

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "Even if an enquiry found that nuclear was safe and cost effective"

      Economics have (and will continue) to kill nuclear power. One only has to follow what is going on in the UK to see it.

      Safety issues will come from China and India, disasterously and in our lifetimes I predict.

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    18. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Roger, you cite nuclear decommissioning costs of USD$3900-5900/kW.

      I'll give those the figures the benefit of the doubt as far as their accuracy.

      But how about you assume typical values, say 60 year plant life and 90% capacity factor, and tell us the cost per kWh that that corresponds to? (Hint: it's essentially negligible.)

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    19. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      There are blithering chemtrail-fearing idiots who oppose water fluoridation too, does that mean we should ban it?

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  8. Mark Duffett

    logged in via Twitter

    ~50 TWh/yr of biomass. Have the implications of that been thought through? Are we all OK with them? Many green groups certainly aren't.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Good point Mark - the claim in the report is that the biomass feedstock would all be sourced from non-food waste, i.e. crop stubble. The authors do acknowledge that biomass is expensive due to the cost of collecting and transporting the feedstock.

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    2. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      I was mainly thinking of particulate (i.e. smoke) emissions. Accelerated soil nutrient depletion is another concern. This could be countered to some extent by returning the ash to the soil from whence it came, but that would massively increase the expense and depress the EROEI still further. Altogether it'd still be much preferable to have the bulk of our baseload (calling it for what it is, figure 2 clearly indicates reports of its death/fallaciousness to have been greatly exaggerated) come from nuclear electricity.

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  9. John P Morgan

    Physics teacher (ret).

    I couldn't wait, so now I live in a zero emissions house at very low cost.

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    1. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to John P Morgan

      Except you don’t really of course. Are all of the embedded energy costs of building fully offset? Was the building (PV system) undertaken without subsidy of any form? Are you eating self-sufficiently? Is your transport zero energy?

      Not having a go at you personally, I applaud any and all personal actions to reduce emissions (I have made a few reductions myself), but just pointing out that it’s a fallacy to think that this is the complete path to nirvana. We will all still want and need electricity, not provided (affordably) by rooftop solar and a turbine and a pelten wheel and batteries

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    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Wil B

      John, good for you, with so much negativity and disingenuousness surrounding the conversations about moving to a low carbon future, sometimes it's all we have, to do as much as we can. Ignore the intellectual snobs and cynical lecturing please.

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    3. John P Morgan

      Physics teacher (ret).

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Thanks Alice.
      I do actually live in a zero emissions house, notwithstanding Will B's reference. I need no heater, no 'aircon' and my attached greenhouse provides at least some of my food requirements. If I chose to go vegetarian, I could live completely 'on site'.
      It's not 'rocket science'.
      I often say to visitors, that I get everything from a "thermo-nuclear fusion reactor located at a safe distance from the nearest population centre".
      I receive visitors in large numbers since I was featured in various media back in 2010.
      I am always happy to help.
      Living this way is a lot cheaper than all the alternatives.
      And no carbon emissions either.

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  10. Gideon Maxwell Polya

    logged in via Facebook

    A very useful article. However some key points below:

    1. The various estimates for comparative energy costs ignore the huge environmental and human cost of fossil fuel burning-based energy. Thus, for example, it has been estimated that the "true cost" of coal-based power in Ontario taking environment and human impact costs into account is about 4 times greater than the "market cost" (see Paul Gipe, “Ontario study identifies social costs of coal-fired power plants”, EV World, : http://www.evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=8836

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  11. Glenn Tamblyn

    logged in via Facebook

    I haven't read the report but a question. When they look at geothermal are they looking at just hot dry geothermal or does that include hot wet geothermal as well? Victoria at least has good reserves of existing hot aquifers in the Western District with companies working towards pilot wells.

    Also the thing missing from this analysis is stand-alone grid connected energy storage. A number of technologies are progressing although still at the pilot stages.

    Also missing from what Roger has described…

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Thanks Glenn - the AEMO study considers both EGS (enhanced geothermal system = hot rocks) and HSA (hot sedimentary aquifers). The locations and expense of hotrock meant it was not selected as a competitive option. HSA is Victoria is one of the location that is used in the model.

      Off-shore wind is also considered but is too expensive compared to onshore wind. Off-shore is only really viable when you have a lack of onshore space (i.e in Europe). We don't have an issue with space in Australia.

      10% DSP also strikes me as low compared to what might be possible. But I appreciate the study wants to remain conservative.

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  12. Glenn Tamblyn

    logged in via Facebook

    Also, it is a pity they didn't include Off-shore Wind. It would have been interesting to see how much difference it made to both the percentage contribution from different sources given OS Winds greater availability compared to On-shore, and to the cost. Could Off-Shore wind reduce the need for geothermal to provide more base-load like power.

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  13. Mark Lawson

    senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

    Of the studies cited the only one I would pay much attention to is the AEMO report. Okay, fair enough, zero emissions are possible, but the main message I took away from the study when I looked through it, is that its not going to happen - at least not in my lifetime.

    First off I was under the impression that geothermal was a long way from being workable in Aus. Another poster, John Newlands, says that they're finally got some small output from one plant, after a decade of effort. Might be decades…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Well Mark, looks as if the cost of not frying ourselves is going to be something like a doubling of our electricuity costs. Naturally, all right-thinking AFR-reading people would prefer the destruction of their civilisation to more expensive electricity

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Does Mark Lawson accept the science of the IPCC, the economics in Stern, and the Australian view of Garnaut?

      If not then of course moving to 100% renewable is silly.

      But if he does accept the science and economics of it being cheaper to limit climate change than to deal with the consequences, Mark needs to come up with other ways of taking effective action.

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    3. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael - leaving aside the issue of science - actually most of it deals with forecasting, not science - the economics of dealing with climate change, if and when it ever occurs, has always been doubtful. The only two reports I saw which found otherwise were Stern and Garnaut. Stern's report kicked off an almighty tussle over his use of the discount rate (or rediscount rate as it is termed), as one of the more controversial aspects of his report. He had to set it very low to get the result he did…

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Leaving aside the issue of human rights, would slavery be beneficial for the economy?

      Leaving aside the health effects, is it right or wrong to restrict tobacco advertising?

      "Leaving aside the issue of science" is not, for me, an acceptable starting point for any debate on climate change.

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      And as you are a senior journalist I think it important that you understand science.

      Science is about explaining the past and predicting the future. So climate science is all about doing these two things.

      To test a theory of what is driving climate we don't need to wait to see what happens. We can build a model, put in start data from the past, run the climate simulation, and see how our theory compares with what we know did happen.

      Over the last few decades the science of climate change…

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    6. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Personally in my world, I have a maremma to deal with any pest problems, no fox is welcome. However in the real world, strange but true, people masquerade as formidable proponents of the truth. There's also that advancement of position whereby someone gets promoted beyond their capability or effectiveness, can't remember the term.

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    7. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Precisely my point - you are making moral arguments, mostly.. they're not economic ones. the economic case for cutting greenhouse case was always dodgy and only for the really extreme results. so if everyone is clear that its a moral case then there's no argument from me..

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    8. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Michael - actually the way you outline of testing forecasting systems is highly contentious. Your describing post-matching or hind casting. The people who study forecasting will tell you that success in hind casting is no guide to any forecasting systems' predictive success. Its an indication.The only real way to test a forecasting system is to see how it has fared against results unknown at the time the forecast was made.
      Climate scientists seem to have adopted this technique wholesale none the less, it is highly doubtful.

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    9. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      I'm starting off by accepting the scientific consensus which has build up over decades in every country. Whether or not the science is correct is not a moral argument, it is scientific.

      I admit I have not read all of Stern or Garnaut - have you? But my understanding is that both make an economic case that action to prevent climate change is the rational economic response.

      My response to my accepting the science is firstly a moral one - knowing the harm we will cause to future generations we should prevent it, especially when it is economically feasible to do so.

      You appear to deny the science and to doubt the economics. And the only reason I can see for this is that you don't like their conclusions.

      The reality is that when it comes to morals and values we may never reach agreement.

      But the climate science and the economics should be able to be debated without being effected by morals. So if the IPCC and Stern and Garnaut are all incompetent - please say why.

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    10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      People have been making forecasts in the past which can now be tested against what has now happened. The most authoritative summary of these forecasts is in the IPCC reports.

      What we find is that for each report what actually happened by the time of the next report has always been close to the worst case (ie bigger changes) of their predictions.

      The IPCC tends to be very conservative as they are incredibly scrutinised, and this is probably why they have got it wrong each time.

      So yes - the…

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  14. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    Of the 36 comments posted so far not a single comment tackles the issue of the politics of how to get government to act.

    I've created a new forum which aims to make a difference by separating a discussion such as this one into four separate threads - big picture on climate change / facts about moving to renewable / policy - what do we want to do? / and action - how do we get this to happen?

    Anyone convinced that action to move to renewables is urgently needed is welcome to check out:
    http://map.boards.net/thread/22/action-rapidly-move-zero-emissions

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  15. Gary Murphy

    Independent Thinker

    I think they were a bit quick to write off pumped hydro. The cost estimates they made were based on only 500MW per site. Greater generating capacity per site would reduce the costs and might make it viable.

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      I agree it looks to be on the small side. But viable pumped hydro requires fairly specific circumstances (downhill and uphill reservoirs, appropriate head etc.) We would hope that there is more capacity for pumped hydro in Australia, but our lack of water and mountains makes the search a challenge.

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  16. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    "On-shore wind, solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power with storage are all significant contributors, but wave power, hydro, biomass and biogas..."

    The odd things in all analyses like this are three...

    a) No mention of the key environmental/economic factor: power density.

    b) No mention of the problem being solved in the US in the 1960s:
    http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa

    c) No mention that the French made a studious commitment to solve the problem in the ;70s and succeeded.
    ieee4life.org/2013-03-20Meeting/presentation.pdf…

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  17. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    >"Zero emissions power is possible, and we know what it will cost"

    You are joking of course!.

    We have no idea what the cost of such a scheme would be other than it would be at least double the costs stated in the AEMO draft report.

    - Cost projections to 2030 and 2050 for technologies that have never been built at the scale required.

    - Ridiculously low fuel cost for biofuels - to provide reliable biogas when required (the CSIRO study excludes logistic constraints) (some of the issues are…

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