Nuclear power should be allowed in Australia – but only with a carbon price



The Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. It does not produce nuclear energy but is used to produce medical radioisotopes and for other purposes.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

Looking at the state of policy on energy and climate change in Australia, it’s tempting to give in to despair. At the national level, following the abandonment of the National Energy Guarantee last year, we have no coherent energy policy and no serious policy to address climate change.

In this context, the announcement of two separate inquiries into the feasibility of nuclear power (by the New South Wales and federal parliaments) could reasonably give rise to cynicism. The only possible case for considering nuclear power, in my view, is that it might provide a way to decarbonise our electricity supply industry.

Yet many of the keenest boosters of nuclear power have consistently opposed any serious measure to address climate change, and quite a few have rejected mainstream science altogether.

Activists dressed as nuclear waste barrels protesting at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in 2001. Nuclear technology in Australia has long raised concern among environmentalists.
Laura Frriezer/AAP



Read more:
Australia should explore nuclear waste before we try domestic nuclear power


Yet in a situation which all responsible people view as a climate emergency, we can’t afford the luxury of despair. For this reason, rather than dismissing these inquiries as political stunts, I made a submission to the federal inquiry setting out the conditions required to allow for any possibility of nuclear power in Australia.

The submission was picked up by the national media, which largely focused on my proposal to lift the state ban on nuclear power and implement a carbon price.

The reception from commentators on the right, who want the ban lifted, and from renewables advocates, who want a price on carbon, suggests a middle ground on nuclear power may be achievable.

The three big problems with nuclear power

Three fundamental problems arise immediately when considering the prospect of nuclear power in Australia. First, the technology is expensive: more expensive than new fossil-fuelled power stations, and far too expensive to compete with existing fossil fuel generators under current market conditions.

Second, given the time lags involved, any substantial contribution from nuclear power in Australia won’t be available until well beyond 2030.

Third, given the strong public opposition to nuclear power, particularly from the environmental movement, any attempt to promote nuclear power at the expense of renewables would never get broad support. In these circumstances, any investor in nuclear power would face the prospect of losing their money the moment the balance of political power shifted.

A technician uses a hot cell which shields radioactive material at the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

On the first point, we have some evidence from the contract agreed by the UK government in for the construction of the Hinkley C nuclear power plant. This was the first new nuclear construction project to be approved in an OECD country for a number of years.

The agreement to construct Hinkley was based on a guaranteed “strike price” of £92.50/ megawatt hours (MWh), in 2012 prices, to be adjusted in line with the consumer price index during the construction period and over the subsequent 35-year tariff period. At current exchange rates, this price corresponds to approximately A$165.




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Nuclear weapons? Australia has no way to build them, even if we wanted to


Prices in Australia’s National Electricity Market have generally averaged around A$90/MWh. This implies that, if new nuclear power is to compete with existing fossil fuel generators, a carbon price must impose a cost of A$75/MWh on fossil fuel generation.

Assuming emission rates of 1.3 tonnes/MWh for brown coal, 1 tonne/MWh for black and 0.5 tonnes for gas, the implied carbon price ranges from A$50/tonne (to displace brown coal) to $150/tonne (to displace gas). On the basis that nuclear power is most plausible as a competitor for baseload generation from brown coal, I considered a price of A$50/tonne.

A blueprint for reform

The central recommendations of my submission were as follows:

Nuclear power, while costly, could dramatically reduce Australia’s electricity sector emissions.
AAP

Recommendation 1: A carbon price of A$25/tonne should be introduced immediately, and increased at a real rate of 5% a year, reaching A$50/tonne by 2035.

Recommendation 2: The government should immediately adopt the recommendations of its own Climate Change Authority for a 40% to 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, relative to 2000 levels, and match other leading OECD countries in committing to complete decarbonisation of the economy by 2050.

Recommendation 3: The parliament should pass a motion:

  • affirming its confidence in mainstream climate science and its acceptance of the key conclusions of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
  • legislating a commitment to emissions reductions;
  • removing the existing ban on nuclear power.

Let’s all meet in the middle

Rather to my surprise, this proposal received a favourable reception from a number of centre-right commentators.

Reaction from renewables proponents, on social media at least, was cautious. But it did not indicate the reflexive hostility that might be expected, given the polarised nature of the debate.

There are immediate political implications of my proposal at both the state and federal level. It will be more difficult for the Coalition-dominated committees running the two inquiries to bring down a report favourable to nuclear power without addressing the necessary conditions – including a carbon price. If the government’s hostility to carbon pricing is such that a serious proposal for nuclear power cannot be considered, it will at least be clear that this option can be abandoned for good.

Former Nationals leader and now backbencher Barnaby Joyce is a strong advocate for nuclear power.
Lukas Coch/AAP

In the admittedly unlikely event that the Coalition government shows itself open to new thinking, the focus turns to Labor and the Greens.

Given the urgency of addressing climate change – a task that is best addressed through a carbon price – it makes no sense to reject action now on the basis that it opens up the possibility of nuclear power sometime in the 2030s. And, if renewables and storage perform as well as most environmentalists expect, nuclear power will be unable to compete even then.

Political hardheads will doubtless say that this is all impossible, and they may be right. But in a world where Donald Trump can win a US presidential election, and major investment banks support UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “impossible” is a big claim

In the absence of any prospect of progress on either energy or climate, the grand bargain I’ve proposed is at least worth a try.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Australia’s energy woes will not be solved by reinforcing a monopoly



Australia’s energy market has a logjam,
Sean Davis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

The possibility of blackouts affecting half of Victoria has attracted plenty of attention to a document once read only by industry insiders and policy wonks: the Electricity Statement of Opportunities.

The Statement, updated every year by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), forecasts 10-year supply and demand in the main grids that serve the Australia’s south and eastern states.

But the chance of huge blackouts is just part of the Statement – and in fact it reveals a growing tension between the market operator and the bodies that oversee electricity regulations.




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Blackouts unlikely

So, what does the latest Statement say? The good news is AEMO calculates the expected level of “unserved energy” – that is, demand that cannot be met by supply – is likely to be fairly low, which makes blackouts unlikely.

The bad news is AEMO thinks a standard based on “expected unserved energy” is a poor way to forecast keeping the lights on.

Instead, AEMO points to the unlikely events that nonetheless could have a significant impact on consumers and says we should frame reliability obligations around those.




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In its analysis of these, AEMO finds it is possible (albeit unlikely) about half of Victoria’s households could lose supply in a single event in the coming year.

So, on the one hand AEMO expects the system will basically meet the current obligations for unserved energy, but it also says there is nonetheless the possibility half of Victoria’s homes could suffer outages because of shortfalls on the main power system.

Importantly, as AEMO’s obligation is to hit the expected unserved energy standard, not beat it, it is not authorised to take actions to mitigate these outside possibilities.

Market vs regulators

To really understand the issues here, we need to look back to last year. In 2018, AEMO sought to change Australia’s energy regulations so AEMO could buy as much reserve capacity as it decided was needed to reliably manage unlikely but possible severe failures.

It also asked for the authority to buy reserves for longer periods so that it could source reserves more cheaply.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) that sets the rules rejected this application on the basis that the standards were already high enough – maybe even too high – and AEMO was unduly risk-averse (the political risk associated with power failures made it so). By implication, left to its own devices AEMO would look after itself, at customers’ expense.

Whatever the stated rationale, underlying AEMC’s rejection of AEMO’s application is the philosophy of the sanctity of the market: wherever possible, the market is to be protected from intervention.

From the regulator’s perspective, were it to have acceded to AEMO’s request to expand the volume of reserves AEMO bought outside the market, it would be buying reserves it did not need and allowing the price signals in the market to be further undermined.

But I would argue the regulator’s decision is better characterised as protecting the National Electricity Market’s monopoly for the exchange of wholesale electricity.

It may be acceptable to force transactions through a market if there is confidence in that market. But the evidence of market failure is abundant: wholesale prices in Victoria at record highs, rampant exercise of market power, reliability concerns that often make the front page, and in certain cases shortfalls in dispatchable capacity, storage and price-responsive demand.




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In its Statement, AEMO signalled it will work with Victoria’s state government to explore ways they can work together to meet Victoria’s reliability needs, in spite of the AEMC’s decision.

This is a very significant development and I envisage it will presage similar bilateral arrangements between AEMO and other states.




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35 degree days make blackouts more likely, but new power stations won’t help


Should we be worried about this? Not in the least. Electricity markets do not spontaneously arise; they are administrative constructions. For too long the National Electricity Market has had a monopoly on the exchange of wholesale electricity and the AEMC has had a monopoly on its oversight. Monopolies and markets ossify when they get stuck in their originating orthodoxy and ideology.

AEMO is beginning to clear a log jam. There is a spirit of innovation and discovery in the air. This is something to welcome and it is not a moment too soon.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wind and solar cut rather than boost Australia’s wholesale electricity prices



Power failure. It’s gas, not wind, that’s pushing up electricity prices.
Shutterstock

Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, RMIT University

The 2019 Australian Conference of Economists is taking place in Melbourne from July 14 to 16.

During the conference The Conversation is publishing a selection of articles by the authors of papers being delivered at the conference. Others are here.


Wholesale prices in the National Electricity Market have climbed significantly in recent years. The increase has coincided with a rapid increase in the proportion of electricity supplied by wind and solar generators.

But that needn’t mean the increase in wind and solar generation caused the increase in prices. It might have been caused by other things.

Colleagues Songze Qu and Tihomir Ancev from the University of Sydney and I have examined the contribution of each type of generator to wholesale prices, half hour by half hour over the eight years between November 1, 2010 and June 30, 2018.

We find that, rather than pushing prices up, each extra gigawatt of dispatched wind generation cuts the wholesale electricity price by about A$11 per megawatt hour at the time of generation, while each extra gigawatt of utility-scale solar cuts it A$14 per megawatt hour.

Merit order matters

Here’s how.

In Australia’s National Electricity Market, prices are determined at five-minute intervals and averaged over 30-minute intervals for settlement. Generators place bids for supplying electricity to meet the expected demand which are accepted in a “merit order” of cheapest to most expensive.

The final price – awarded to all the bidders accepted – is determined by the final and most expensive bid accepted, which is often a bid by a gas generator.




Read more:
A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills


Wind and utility-scale solar generators bid into the market at low cost because their power is essentially free when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. They displace higher cost bids, usually from gas or diesel turbines that have high fuel costs. We find this effect on prices (known as the “merit order effect”) has grown as wind and solar generation has grown.

The daily impact of wind and solar on wholesale prices is somewhat lower. A 1 gigawatt per hour increase in daily wind generation
is associated with about a A$1 per megawatt hour decrease in
the average daily wholesale price. The same increase in solar generation is associated with A$2.7 per megawatt hour decrease in daily wholesale electricity prices.

These findings and those of others since 2003 challenge the previous conventional wisdom that mandating renewable generation necessarily increases prices.

So why are prices climbing?

Natural gas prices have been climbing dramatically over the recent years, mainly due to the opening up of east coast export capacity and the integration of the Australian market with international markets. The higher prices have made it more expensive to run gas turbines and have pushed up the price of what is often the last bid to be accepted.

We find the price of natural gas has a strong positive effect on wholesale electricity prices. An increase of A$1 per gigajoule in the natural gas price pushes up wholesale electricity prices by about A$5 per megawatt hour.

Although in recent years the upward price pressure from more expensive gas has overwhelmed the downward pressure from greater wind and solar capacity, it is nevertheless true that wholesale prices are lower than they would have been without renewable generation.

Therefore, a continued expansion of renewables is likely to put downward pressure on wholesale prices for some time.

There’s a case for moving away from gas peaking plants

This means that rather than reconsidering renewables, authorities should reconsider their reliance on gas plants for handling peaks in demand. While peaking plants are more needed with the increased penetration of renewables, there is a case for switching to alternative providers of peaking power, such as large-scale batteries and pumped hydro.

In doing so governments should also consider something else. Wholesale prices that are too low will discourage investment, leading to higher prices down the track.

The lower prices go, the more the government might need to provide investment incentives.

For now, all other things being equal, more wind and solar power means lower wholesale prices. But they’ll have to be watched.




Read more:
The verdict is in: renewables reduce energy prices (yes, even in South Australia)


The Conversation


Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull’s home truths on the NEG help Labor in the climate wars


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An Easter weekend in an election campaign might be a bit of a challenge for a pair of leaders who were atheists. But fortunately for Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, declared believers, it wasn’t a problem.

Both attended church services during the so-called campaign cease-fire that the main parties had proclaimed for two of the four days.

Morrison on Sunday was pictured in full voice with raised arm at his Horizon Pentacostal church in The Shire, where the media were invited in. On Friday he’d been at a Maronite Catholic service in Sydney.

Sunday morning saw Shorten at an Anglican service in Brisbane, his family including mother-in-law Quentin Bryce, former governor-general.

Neither leader was hiding his light under a bushel.

Church, chocolate and penalty rates

Sunday was an opportunity to wheel out the kids, chasing Easter eggs (Shorten) or on the Rock Star ride at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show (Morrison). This was campaigning when you’re not (exactly) campaigning.

The minor players weren’t into the pretend game. For them, the relative restraint on the part of the majors presented rare opportunity. Usually Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick would have little chance of being the feature interview on the ABC’s Insiders.

But while Friday and Sunday were lay days for the major parties Saturday was not (and Monday won’t be either).

For Labor, Easter has meshed nicely with one of the key planks of its wages policy – restoration of penalty rate cuts by the Fair Work Commission. Even on Sunday, Shorten pointedly thanked “everyone who’s working this weekend”.

It was the start of Labor’s campaign focus turning from health to wages this week, when it will cast the election as a “referendum on wages”.

Turnbull resurrects the NEG

The weekend standout, however, was the intervention of Malcolm Turnbull, who launched a series of pointed tweets about the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Turnbull was set off by a reference from journalist David Speers to “Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG”.

“In fact the NEG had the support of the entire Cabinet, including and especially the current PM and Treasurer. It was approved by the Party Room on several occasions”, the former prime minister tweeted.



“It had the support of the business community and energy sector in a way that no previous energy policy had. However a right wing minority in the Party Room refused to accept the majority position and threatened to cross the floor and defeat their own government”.

“That is the only reason it has been abandoned by the Government. The consequence is no integration of energy and climate policy, uncertainty continues to discourage investment with the consequence, as I have often warned, of both higher emissions and higher electricity prices.”

He wasn’t finished.



“And before anyone suggests the previous tweet is some kind of revelation – all of the economic ministers, including myself, @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg spent months arguing for the NEG on the basis that it would reduce electricity prices and enable us to lower our emissions.”

And then:

“I see the @australian has already described the tweets above as attacking the Coalition. That’s rubbish. I am simply stating the truth: the NEG was designed & demonstrated to reduce electricity prices. So dumping it means prices will be higher than if it had been retained. QED”

“The @australian claims I ‘dropped the NEG’. False. When it was clear a number of LNP MPs were going to cross the floor the Cabinet resolved to not present the Bill at that time but maintain the policy as @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg& I confirmed on 20 August.”



(Frydenberg, incidentally, has lost out every which way on the NEG. As energy minister he tried his hardest to get it up, only to see it fall over. Now he is subject to a big campaign against him in Kooyong on climate change, including from high-profile candidates and GetUp.)

Turnbull might justify the intervention as just reminding people of the history. But it is damaging for the government and an Easter gift for Labor – which is under pressure over how much its ambitious emissions reduction policy would cost the economy. It also feeds into Labor’s constant referencing of the coup against Turnbull.

Turnbull’s Easter tweets are a reminder

  • the Coalition sacrificed a coherent policy on energy and climate for a hotchpotch with adverse consequences for prices;

  • it dumped that policy simply because of internal bloodymindedness, and

  • the now-PM and treasurer were backers of the NEG, which had wide support from business.

Shorten has strengthened his commitment on the NEG, indicating on Saturday he’d pursue it in government even without bipartisan support.

“We’ll use some of the Turnbull, Morrison, Frydenberg architecture, and we will work with that structure,” he said.

Given the hole it has left in the government’s energy policy, pressing Morrison on the economic cost of walking away from the NEG is as legitimate as asking Shorten about the economic impact of his policy.




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VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the starting line of the 2019 election campaign


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The government’s electricity shortlist rightly features pumped hydro (and wrongly includes coal)


Mark Diesendorf, UNSW

The federal government this week released a shortlist of 12 project proposals for “delivering reliable and affordable power” to be considered for subsidy under its Underwriting New Generation Investments program.

The shortlist features six renewable electricity pumped hydro projects, five gas projects, and one coal upgrade project, supplemented by A$10 million for a two-year feasibility study for electricity generation in Queensland, possibly including a new coal-fired power station.

The study is unnecessary, because the GenCost 2018 study by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator already provides recent cost data for new power generation in Australia. It shows that new wind and solar farms can provide the lowest-cost electricity, even when two to six hours’ worth of storage is added.

Hence there is no economic case for new coal-fired power in Australia. After a century of coal, it should not be subsidised any longer.




Read more:
It’s clear why coal struggles for finance – and the government can’t change that


State of the states

While Queensland and Victoria have state government policies to drive the rapid growth of large-scale solar and wind, New South Wales does not even have a renewable electricity target. Yet the retirement of large, old coal-fired stations is in the pipeline: Liddell, nominally 1,680 megawatts, in 2022 and Vales Point, nominally 1,320MW, possibly in the late 2020s.

Coal baron Trevor St Baker bought Vales Point from the NSW government for the token sum of A$1 million in 2015. He wants to refurbish it and run it until 2049 – and his plan has made it onto the government’s shortlist.

Given that Vales Point is now arguably a A$730 million asset, St Baker has made a huge windfall profit at the expense of NSW taxpayers, and so a government subsidy to upgrade it would be unjust.

With the price of solar and wind electricity still falling, it will soon be cheaper to replace old operating coal stations that have paid off their capital costs with new renewable electricity, including storage.

Unfortunately, the newly elected NSW Liberal-National Coalition government has no policies of substance to fill the gap left by retiring coal stations with large-scale renewable electricity. It will therefore be up to the federal government after the May election to provide reverse auctions with contracts-for-difference, matching the policies of the ACT, Victorian and Queensland governments. Also, increased funding to ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is needed for dispatchable renewables (those that can supply power on demand) and other forms of storage.

Driving the change

The transition to renewable electricity is already well under way, as even the federal energy minister Angus Taylor admits. The low costs of solar and wind power are driving the change. To maintain reliability, dispatchable renewables (as opposed to variable sources such as solar and wind) and other forms of storage are needed in the technology mix.

Batteries excel at responding rapidly to changes in supply and demand, on timescales of tens of milliseconds to a few hours. But they would be very expensive for covering periods of several days, even at half their current price. So there is a temporary role for open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to meet demand peaks of a few hours, and to fill lows of several days in wind and/or solar supply.

Small-scale pumped hydro, in which excess local renewable electricity does the pumping, has huge potential for storage over periods of several days, but takes longer to plan and build, and has higher capital cost per megawatt, compared with OCGTs.

Small-scale pumped hydro should be the top priority for the federal program. In particular, the off-river proposal by SIMEC Zen Energy, which is part of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, will use a depleted iron ore pit and provide cheap, reliable, low-emission electricity for both GFG’s steelworks at Whyalla and other industrial and commercial users.




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Five gifs that explain how pumped hydro actually works


Hydro Tasmania’s proposed “Battery of the Nation” would involve building a new interconnector across the Bass Strait, together with possibly three new pumped hydro plants. It’s very expensive and is already receiving A$57 million in federal funding. Its inclusion in the shortlist is worrying because it could soak up all the program’s unspecified funding for pumped hydro.

Furthermore, the need to greatly increase Tasmania’s wind capacity to deal with droughts appears to be an optional extra, rather than an essential part of the project.

Little information is available for the other shortlisted pumped hydro projects. UPC Renewables is proposing a huge solar farm, together with pumped hydro, in the New England region of NSW. In South Australia, Sunset Power (trading as Delta Electricity, chaired by Trevor St Baker), in association with the Altura Group, is proposing an off-river pumped hydro project near Port Augusta, and Rise Renewables is proposing the Baroota pumped hydro project. BE Power Solutions, which does not have a website, is proposing pumped hydro on the Cressbrook Reservoir at Crows Nest, Queensland.

Pumping for Snowy 2.0 (which is not part of the program) will be done mostly by coal power for many years, until renewables dominate supply in NSW and Victoria. Therefore, I give low priority to this huge and expensive scheme.




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Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains


To sum up, new coal power stations and major upgrades to existing ones are both unnecessary. They are more expensive than wind and solar, even when short-term storage is added – not to mention very polluting.

A few open-cycle gas turbines may be acceptable for temporary peak supply during the transition to 100% renewable electricity. But the priority should be building pumped hydro to back up wind and solar farms. This will keep the grid reliable and stable as we do away with the old and welcome the new.The Conversation

Mark Diesendorf, Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Newsflash. The government doesn’t need to break up power companies in order to tame prices. The ACCC says so



File 20181207 128202 130403n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Victoria’s Loy Yang brown coal power station at night. Breaking up generation companies might do little to bring prices down.
Shutterstock

Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Who wouldn’t want cheaper power?

And who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of a stoush between the big bad generators and the government, trying to break them up on our behalf?

Even if it was largely tangential to keeping prices low.

The “big stick” of forced divestiture, where the government through a court could order an energy company to sell off bits of itself, never made it to a vote in the final chaotic fortnight of parliament just finished.

It will be the subject of a Senate inquiry that will report on March 18. After that, parliament is set to sit for only seven days before the election, so its possible it’ll never happen, under this government.

The government’s bill is good in parts

Parts of its Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill are uncontroversial.

The main trigger was the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s June report, Restoring Electricity Affordability and Australia’s Competitive Advantage.

It found against forced divestiture, but thought along similar lines to the government in some respects.

The legislation presented to parliament this month bans three types of misconduct:

  • electricity retailers’ failing to pass on cost savings
  • energy companies’ refusing to enter into hedge contracts (agreements to buy and sell at a particular price) with smaller competitors
  • generators’ manipulating the spot (short term) market, for example by withholding supply.

It imposes civil penalties for the first, forces companies to offer contracts for the second, and provides for divestiture orders for the third, after they have been recommended by the government and approved by the Federal Court.




Read more:
Consumers let down badly by electricity market: ACCC report


There are good reasons for the government to act on the three behaviours, although each of the its proposed solutions raises concerns.

The ACCC wants something similar but different

Firstly, the ACCC did not identify the legislation’s first target as a major cause of high prices. They did observe that it is complicated to shop around and the offers are confusing, and sometime next year Australian governments will force retailers in some states to offer fairer default offers at an affordable price.

But it not clear why the energy sector has been singled out as an industry whose retailers have to pass on cost savings, and not supermarkets or banks or airlines or petrol stations, or any other kind of industry.

Secondly, the ACCC most certainly did raise concerns about dominant generator-retailers preferring not to enter into hedge contracts with competitors, particularly in South Australia.




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It recommended that the Australian Energy Market Commission impose a “market making obligation” forcing large, so-called gentailers to buy and sell hedge contracts.

Its recommendation has the same intent as the one proposed by the government, although it has the advantage of being administered by a regulator that already exists.

Thirdly, the ACCC also concluded that concentration in the wholesale market means higher prices. Its report focused on the bidding activity of the Queensland government owned generator Stanwell Corporation.

Manipulation isn’t a major price driver

The Grattan Institute identified market manipulation by generators as a contributor to higher prices in our July 2018 report Mostly working: Australia’s wholesale electricity market.

But we found it made a much smaller contribution than high gas and coal prices and the closure of ageing coal generators.

We recommended a rule change to constrain generators’ bidding practices in specific circumstances.




Read more:
Why the free market hasn’t slashed power prices (and what to do about it)


The ACCC recommended giving powers to the Australian Energy Regulator to investigate and fix such problems.

It considered a divestiture mechanism of the kind in the government’s leglislation, but rejected it as extreme.

Its own less extreme recommendations would “if implemented, be a better means to restore competition to a level which serves consumers well”.

Breaking up corporations is a broader question

There may well be a case for breaking up corporations whose size prevents or substantially lessens competition. It happens overseas.

The government cites the example of the United States Sherman anti-trust legislation. It has been in place since 1890 and has been famously used to break up Standard Oil and AT&T. The ACCC does not have this power.

There is debate about whether it would work in the much smaller market of Australia.




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Allan Fels, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a believes it would.

But quite sensibly he argues it should apply across the board, including sectors such as banking in light of the findings of the royal commission.

Ian Harper, who led the government’s 2015 competition review, is less convinced. However, he says if a divestment power is introduced, it should be introduced broadly.




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It’s worth considering divestment powers broadly, rather than rushing to introduce them in one sector of the economy in what was to have been the leadup to Christmas because of a concern that its prices were too high.

The ACCC has already delivered a comprehensive report on the means to bring them down.

The government would be better served acting comprehensively on its recommendations.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s battery plan – good policy, or just good politics?



File 20181122 182059 wylcnu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
With the right settings, Labor’s new scheme could benefit householders as well as the grid itself.
Shutterstock.com

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

Federal Labor obviously likes the politics of giving rebates of up to A$2,000 each to 100,000 households of prospective voters so they can install domestic batteries. But is this good policy that will support Australia’s transition to a reliable, affordable, low-emissions energy system, or is it just middle-class welfare?

The Grattan Institute has previously been critical of solar subsidies similar to this program. In 2015 we found that household solar photovoltaic (PV) installations driven by state and federal government subsidies cost Australia around A$9 billion. Many solar incentive programs were uncapped, and their costs blew out as the price of PV systems dropped rapidly.

The parallels with battery technology are clear: batteries may be expensive and uncommon today, but many commentators expect them to drop rapidly in price.




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Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


More recently, my colleagues and I have lamented the Victorian government’s return to the bad old days of solar subsidies. Its Solar Homes program promises A$1.24 billion in subsidies over 10 years and would roughly triple the level of household solar in Victoria. Yet most households will be financially better off installing solar even without this subsidy. If fully implemented, it will be a great waste of taxpayers’ money.

The case for public subsidies for household batteries is stronger than for household solar panels. Batteries are better able to help cut the cost of the entire energy system and so don’t just benefit the people who install them – they also benefit electricity consumers more generally. By releasing stored power when most needed, batteries can reduce reliance on expensive “peaking” power plants that operate only at times of high demand. And they can reduce the cost of expanding network capacity to supply all customers at peak times.

By contrast, solar primarily eats into midday demand, which is already low due to the output of the large existing fleet of solar panels. While solar has historically reduced peak demand to some degree, the Australian Energy Market Operator considers that this effect is reducing as solar has pushed peak demand later in the day.




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Impact of rooftop solar PV on peak demand.
AEMO 2018, The NEM Reliability Framework

In a perfect world, households would have enough private incentive to install batteries when they benefit the entire system. If households faced higher electricity prices at times of peak demand, they would be rewarded for reducing system-wide costs by installing batteries.

But we do not live in this perfect world. Governments are reluctant to mandate that households pay higher prices during peak periods, and retailers find it hard to convince households to accept these more complex tariffs. Cost-reflective pricing is unlikely to become widespread any time soon, meaning there is a case for public subsidy to household batteries – provided the subsidies are capped, and end when battery prices inevitably fall.

Using smart controls to coordinate multiple batteries can maximise their benefits. These so-called “virtual power plants” allow the controller to reduce a household’s draw on the grid at peak times, thus reducing costs for both the household and the system. Federal Labor should increase the benefits of its policy by mandating that people who receive a subsidy participate in such a scheme, and by targeting installations to areas where the network most needs support.




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Virtual power plants are in vogue, but they can be like taking a sledgehammer to a nut


On balance, federal Labor’s policy appears to be a sensible step towards a smarter, lower-emissions electricity grid. It can be tweaked to maximise benefits to the whole system, not just to the lucky households that get government assistance. And its cost is capped, which reduces the risk of the sort of cost blowouts that have plagued solar subsidy schemes.

Unlike some of the Coalition’s policies, such as its plan to underwrite new generation, Labor’s battery policy is likely to help rather than hinder Australia’s energy transition.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would subsidise households to install batteries as part of the ALP’s energy policy to be unveiled by Bill Shorten on Thursday.

If Labor wins next year’s election, it would provide from 2020 a A$2000 rebate for 100,000 households, with annual incomes of less than $180,000, to buy and install battery systems. It would also provide low cost loans.

The ALP puts its emphasis on boosting the use of renewables, in a policy that keeps the National Energy Guarantee – abandoned by the government in the leadership meltdown – as an option on the table. The opposition indicates it is prepared to implement the NEG but its policy is providing for the future if agreement on it cannot be reached.

The ALP estimates the battery subsidy would triple the number of battery systems in Australian households. The policy sets a national target of one million household battery installations by 2025.

“The massive boost will also help manufacturers scale up production and reduce their costs”, Shorten and energy spokesman Mark Butler said in a statement.

They said the ALP policy would “help Australians slash their power bills.”

“The Smart Energy Council estimates that new household solar and batteries would allow most homes to save more than 60 per cent off their power bills”, Shorten and Butler said.

“Australians love renewable energy because they know it saves them money and it’s good for the environment”, they said, pointing out that household solar installation had rising from 7000 homes in 2007 to 1.8 million today.

“Supporting the installation of more household battery systems is the next big step in helping families keep their energy bills lower. When the sun goes down, or when electricity usage is at its peak, consumers can draw on their own stored energy”, Shorten and Butler said.

They said this was good for both consumers and the environment. People gained more control over their power bills, and cheaper and cleaner energy would help Australia achieve 50% of power from renewables by 2030.

A Labor government would also invest $100 million in a Neighbourhood Renewables Program, so renters and people in social housing could benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy.

The cost of the battery subsidy and the neighbourhood scheme is estimated at $215.9 million over the current forward estimates. The costing has been done by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

Shorten and Butler said Labor would “establish community power hubs to support the development of renewables projects in local communities – such as solar gardens on apartment rooftops, community wind farms, energy efficiency upgrades for social housing and grants for community groups to pilot new projects.”

They said the new initiatives built on Labor’s commitments to crack down on price gouging by power companies.

Labor’s policy on energy would create thousands of jobs in the renewable industry, they said.

In a speech to be delivered on Thursday, Shorten stresses a Labor government would seek bipartisanship on the NEG.

“We want a meaningful NEG that actually lowers prices, reduces pollution, and boosts renewables” he says in an extract released ahead of delivery.

“If I am elected as prime minister, I will sit down with the new opposition leader and the crossbench to talk about a way we can move forward with this framework,”

“But let’s be clear: we will work with the Coalition – but we will not wait for them. Our willingness to cooperate on a market mechanism doesn’t mean everything else gets put on hold,” Shorten says.

He says a Labor government would be prepared to directly underwrite and invest in cleaner cheaper power.

“We will prioritise renewables and support firming technology power like storage and gas. Labor will invest in new generation, in better transmission and distribution – because we realize this vital nation-building work cannot be left up to the big power companies.” Labor’s plan would deliver affordability, reliability and sustainability, Shorten says.

Labor’s battery subsidy program would be reviewed after two years, in light of projected falls in battery costs and to assess progress towards the one million new battery installations by 2025 target.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

State governments can transform Australia’s energy policy from major fail to reliable success


Tony Wood, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


Energy policy in Australia is a major failure. The federal government has been unable to forge an effective policy to ensure affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity. It’s time for the states to step up.

Internationally, responsibility for climate change policies rests with national governments. The federal government says it remains committed to Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, but it has abandoned the emissions-reduction obligation of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This leaves Australia’s electricity sector, which is responsible for 34% of our overall emissions, with no credible policy to reduce those emissions.

The states should fill this policy vacuum if it persists. They should work together on a nationwide emissions reduction scheme through state-based legislation, independent of the federal government. A Commonwealth-led national policy would be best, but a state-based policy is far better than none.




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In October 2018 the COAG Energy Council agreed to continue work on the reliability element of the NEG. The states and territories should maintain this support and implement this policy with the Commonwealth government, and so support the reliability of the National Electricity Market during a challenging transition.

The Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 shows that there is also much the states can do to reduce energy prices. Consumers are understandably upset – household retail prices have increased by more than half in the past decade, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (see page 7 here).

How your state measures up on energy.
Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

The federal government is certainly focused on price – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has referred to Energy Minister Angus Taylor as the “minister for getting electricity prices down” – but many important pricing policies depend on state action.

Retail pricing is the obvious example. Poorly regulated retail electricity markets have not delivered for consumers. Retail margins are higher than would be expected in a truly competitive market. Many consumers find the market so complicated they give up trying to understand it.




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State governments should work alongside the federal government to help consumers navigate the retail “confusopoly”. Governments should require retailers to help consumers compare offers and get the best deal. They should also stop retailers using excessive pay-on-time discounts (which tend to confuse rather than help consumers and can trap lower-income households), and ensure vulnerable customers do not pay high prices.

However, governments should resist the temptation to use price caps as a quick fix. If set too low, price caps could reduce competition and drive longer-term price increases.




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Capping electricity prices: a quick fix with hidden risks


Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, which have not yet adopted retail competition, should move in that direction – while learning from the mistakes of others.

Network costs make up the biggest share of the electricity bill for most households (see page 8 here) and some small businesses. This is particularly an issue in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, where network values increased substantially under public ownership and those costs were passed on to consumers.

These states should write down the value of their overvalued networks or provide rebates to consumers, so the price of the networks is more closely aligned to the value they provide to consumers. Given the poor performance of publicly owned networks, any network businesses still in government hands should be privatised.

Responsibility for setting network reliability requirements should be transferred to the Australian Energy Regulator to prevent risk-averse state governments from imposing excessive reliability standards, which would drive up network costs again.




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Until recently, it seemed state governments had learned the lessons from the bad old days of excessively generous subsidies for rooftop solar. That was until August 2018, when the Victorian government committed more than A$1 billion to pay half the cost of solar panels for eligible households and provide an interest-free loan for the remainder. Most of these systems would pay for themselves without subsidy. The Victorian government should abandon this waste of taxpayers’ money.




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Policy overload: why the ACCC says household solar subsidies should be abolished


Finally, Australia’s gas market is adding to the price pain of homes and businesses. As international prices rise, there is no easy way to avoid some painful decisions. But some state policies are making matters worse.

The Victorian and Tasmanian governments’ moratoria on gas exploration and development constrain supply and drive up prices. The moratoria should be lifted. Instead, these states should give case-by-case approval to gas development projects, with safeguards against specific risks.

Australia needs reliable, affordable electricity to underpin our 21st-century economic prosperity. That must be protected while we also decarbonise the energy sector.

Energy market reform was at the forefront of national competition policy in the mid to late 1990s. But reform has since slowed, and the states are partly responsible. The states can rekindle the fire by pursuing a clear, nationally consistent action plan for affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity.

Australia’s households and businesses – and the environment – are relying on the states to step up.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute and Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

At its current rate, Australia is on track for 50% renewable electricity in 2025


Ken Baldwin, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Australian National University

The Australian renewable energy industry will install more than 10 gigawatts of new solar and wind power during 2018 and 2019. If that rate is maintained, Australia would reach 50% renewables in 2025.

The recent demise of the National Energy Guarantee saw the end of the fourth-best option for aligning climate and energy policy, following earlier vetoes by the Coalition party room on carbon pricing, an emissions intensity scheme, and the clean energy target.




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Yet despite the federal government’s policy paralysis, the renewable energy train just keeps on rolling.

Our analysis, released today by the ANU Energy Change Institute, shows that the Australian energy industry has now demonstrated the capacity to deliver 100% renewable electricity by the early 2030s, if the current rate of installations continues beyond the end of this decade.

Record-breaking pace

Last year was a record year for renewable energy in Australia, with 2,200 megawatts of capacity added. Based on data from the Clean Energy Regulator, during 2018 and 2019 Australia will install about 10,400MW of new renewable energy, comprising 7,200MW of large-scale renewables and 3,200MW of rooftop solar (see charts below). This new capacity is divided roughly equally between large-scale solar photovoltaics (PV), wind farms, and rooftop solar panels. This represents a per-capita rate of 224 watts per person per year, which is among the highest of any nation.

Actual and probable deployment of large-scale (more than 0.1MW) systems in Australia. About 4,000MW per year is currently being installed.
Clean Enegy Regulator/ANU, Author provided
Annual small-scale (less than 0.1MW) rooftop PV capacity additions including an estimate of 1,600MW for the whole of 2018 based on installations for the year to June.
Clean Energy Regulator/ANU, Author provided

If the current rate of renewable energy installation continues, Australia will eclipse the large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET), reaching 29% renewable electricity in 2020 and 50% in 2025. It may even surpass the original 41 terawatt-hour (TWh) target, which was downgraded by the Abbott government to the current 33 TWh.

Our projections are based on the following assumptions:

  • demand (including behind-the-meter demand) remains constant. Demand has changed little in the past decade

  • large- and small-scale solar PV and wind power continue to be deployed at their current rates of 2,000MW, 1,600MW and 2,000MW per year, respectively

  • large- and small-scale solar PV and wind continue to have capacity factors of 21%, 15% and 40%, respectively

  • existing hydro and bio generation remains constant at 20 terawatt-hours per year

  • fossil fuels meet the rapidly declining balance of demand.

No subsidies needed

Renewable energy developers are well aware of these projections, which indicate that they believe that little or no financial support is required for projects to be competitive in 2020 and beyond.

Indeed, the current price of carbon reduction from the government’s existing Emissions Reduction Fund (A$12 per tonne, equivalent to A$11 per MWh for a coal-fired power station (at 0.9 tonnes per MWh), would be sufficient to finance many more renewable energy projects.

The current deployment rate might continue because:

  • large-scale generation certificates will continue to be issued by the Clean Energy Regulator to accredited new renewables generators right up until 2030

  • renewable investment opportunities are broadening beyond the wholesale electricity market, as companies value the economic benefits and green profile of renewable energy supply contracts. For example, British steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta has announced plans to install more than 1GW of renewable energy at the Whyalla steelworks, and Sun Metals in Townsville has already installed 125MW of solar capacity

  • the price of wind and PV will continue to fall rapidly, opening up further market opportunities and putting downward pressure on electricity prices

  • increased use of electric vehicles and electric heat pumps for water and space heating are expected to increase electricity demand. This increased demand is expected to be met by wind and solar PV, which represent almost all new generation capacity in Australia

  • retiring existing coal power stations are being replaced by PV and wind.

A renewables-powered grid

As the electricity sector approaches and exceeds 50% renewables, more investment will be required in storage (like batteries and pumped hydro) and in high-voltage interconnections between regions to smooth out the effects of local weather and demand.

We have previously shown the hourly cost of this grid balancing is about A$5 per MWh for a renewable energy fraction of 50%, rising to A$25 per MWh at 100% renewables.

Modelled increase in annual PV and wind generation (TWh) and the consequent reduction in fossil generation based on extrapolation of current industry deployment rates for renewables.
ANU, Author provided

What do our projections mean for Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? In 2017 these emissions were 534 megatonnes (MT). Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26%, from 612MT per year in 2005 to 453MT per year by 2030. This is a reduction of 81MT per year from current emissions.

We assume that all emission reductions are obtained within the electricity system through progressive closure of black coal power stations, which emit an average of 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh of electricity.

On this basis, emissions in the electricity sector will decline by more than 26% in 2020-21, and will meet Australia’s entire Paris target of 26% reduction across all sectors of the economy (not just “electricity’s fair share”) in 2024-25.




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Our analysis shows Australia’s renewable energy industry has the capacity to deliver deep and rapid emissions reductions. Direct government support for renewables would help, but it is no longer vital.

Government support for stronger high-voltage interstate interconnectors and large-scale storage projects (like the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro proposal) will allow 50-100% renewables to be smoothly integrated into the Australian grid. What is crucial is government policy certainty that will enable the renewable industry to realise its potential to deliver deep emissions cuts.The Conversation

Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.