‘Finkel’s new energy report’ isn’t new and it isn’t by Finkel


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

The headline almost writes itself: “Finkel backs Labor’s renewables policy”. A report released yesterday, The role of energy storage in Australia’s future energy supply mix, has found that Australia can reach 50% renewables by 2030 with limited impact on reliability.

It has, inevitably, lead to claims that Labor’s target of 50% renewables by 2030 is both achievable and correct. But focusing on the politics would be missing the point.


Read more: Shorten goes on front foot over 50% renewables ‘target’


It should first be noted that, despite the many headlines citing his involvement, Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel did not actually write the report. The report is by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), an independent, not-for-profit organisation that brings together Australian academics to provide evidence-based solutions to national and global policy problems. Yes, funding was provided by the Office of the Chief Scientist, and yes, Finkel himself has been supportive of the report, but describing it as a “new Finkel report” is stretching things a little.

The report explores how much energy storage – whether in batteries, pumped hydro or solar thermal – we will need as we increasingly rely on renewable, and therefore intermittent, electricity generation. As more renewable generation enters the system, there needs to be alternative sources of generation, such as storage, that can meet demand when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.


Read more: Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia


The ACOLA report finds that only a small amount of storage would be required to balance a system with 50% renewables. Cue the political debate about the quality of the electricity market modelling that ACOLA relied on to make this finding.

There is far too much focus on electricity market modelling in Australia these days – particularly regarding renewable energy. Finkel’s policies are distrusted and dismissed by people on one side of the debate because they believe his modelling shows too high a level of renewables. And the Coalition’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG) is distrusted and dismissed by people on the other side of the debate because they say it shows too low a level of renewables.

This debate rages on even though no modelling has been revealed; the federal government has promised to unveil the modelling behind the NEG at a meeting of the COAG Energy Council this Friday.

The truth is, modelling is an inexact science. The outcomes depend on the assumptions you use and the data you shove in. This is why the results for Finkel and the NEG will differ so much, despite them using the same emissions reduction targets and using emissions reduction mechanisms that impact the market in very similar ways.


Read more: Politics podcast: Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott on a national energy plan


As it happens, I have limited confidence that you need only a little storage with 50% renewables but a lot of storage at 75% renewables, as ACOLA’s report claims. But the specifics are not important. What is important is that Australia will need something to balance intermittent renewables – and at some point, we will need quite a lot of balancing.

The most important aspect of the ACOLA report is that it brings into focus an unavoidable fact: Australia has serious problems with its electricity system. System security – making sure that the system doesn’t break – is an immediate concern. Reliability – ensuring the system has enough power to meet demand – is a growing problem. And energy storage is a potential solution to both.

ACOLA is not the first to point this out. Finkel’s blueprint for the National Electricity Market, released in June, identified these concerns. The Australian Energy Market Operator in September identified the need for a new mechanism to address medium-term reliability issues in the market.

Without the right policy settings to address reliability and security concerns, storage will have no chance of helping to fix our energy mess, regardless of the quality of ALOCA’s modelling.

The ConversationOur politicians need to focus on the substance of this debate, rather than the headlines. Hitting each other over the head because there are too many – or too few – renewables in the policy basket is pointless and will ultimately prove self-defeating. Instead, how about finding an actual policy solution? Starting at this Friday’s COAG Energy Council meeting. Please?

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How hard will Tony Abbott run against the Finkel plan?



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The government faces a hard internal sell on the Finkel plan, not least to Tony Abbott.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bedding down an energy security policy based broadly on the Finkel model is now crucial for Malcolm Turnbull. But the issue will also test Tony Abbott’s judgement and influence, in what has long been a marquee area of difference between the two men.

Abbott is poking and prodding at the Finkel plan, raising questions and doubts about it.

He told 2GB’s Ray Hadley on Monday that two criteria were essential when judging the chief scientist’s proposal for a clean energy target (CET) that, his report says, “will encourage new low emissions generation [below a threshold level of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour] into the market in a technology neutral fashion”.

Abbott’s criteria were:

  • Did Finkel’s scheme take the pressure off power prices?

  • Did it allow coal to continue?

“My anxiety, listening to reports of the report and this statement that they’re going to reward clean or low emissions fuels while not punishing high emissions fuels, is that it’s going to be a magic pudding,” Abbott said.

“Now we all know that there is no such thing as a magic pudding. And if you are rewarding one type of energy, inevitably that money has got to come from somewhere – either from consumers or taxpayers”.

“And if it’s from consumers, well it’s effectively a tax on coal and that’s the last thing we want”.

For Abbott, the magic word “tax” conjures up his glory days of fighting the Labor government’s “carbon tax”.

Labels can make a lot of difference. As Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin said earlier this year of the carbon tax: “It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know – it was many other things in nomenclature terms. We made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics.”

The CET is not a “tax”, and Finkel argues that consumers will be better off than if the status quo continues – a status quo that businesses and most other stakeholders consider not to be an option.

But the scheme would disadvantage coal relative to renewables – and the extent of the disadvantage will be crucial in the debate within Coalition ranks.

In a softening up exercise, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg lobbied backbenchers individually about the Finkel plan before Friday’s release. Government sources say the feedback is good and believe there is a strong majority that believes Finkel offers a potential way forward.

But the chairman of the government’s backbench environment and energy committee, Craig Kelly, a hardliner, wants more work done “by a couple of other independent organisations”.

In the end, the argument may come down to how “Finkel” is interpreted and the precise form in which it would be translated into practice.

Tuesday’s Coalition meeting is set to provide the first indication of whether the government’s optimism about the positive reception of the plan is solidly based.

The Nationals are vital, given their passion for coal and their original role in mobilising Coalition feeling against an emissions trading scheme. Their general position is they can live with the Finkel framework but it will be a matter of the detail, notably the threshold, with its implications for coal.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is on board, based on his pragmatic assessment that this is better than possible future alternatives. He said on Friday: “I think that if we don’t bed this down, you can see what’s happening in England or anywhere else. If you lose the election, you’re going to get a worse outcome.

“So I’d rather bed down an outcome that secures coal miners, that secures coal-fired power, because I strongly believe in its capacity to provide baseload power that fulfils our obligations in international treaties.

“If we can do that and make sure Mr and Mrs Smith get cheaper power, then of course I’m going to consider that.”

Outspoken Nationals George Christensen is waiting on more information. “I’ve got some mixed thoughts,” he says of Finkel’s plan, and wants to talk further to Frydenberg.

“I’m comfortable with measures to bring down electricity prices. But I’m not comfortable with anything like an emissions trading scheme, or a derivative thereof” – and he is not sure whether this proposal is a “derivative”.

The position of the Liberal critics will be much weakened if the Nationals get behind the Finkel plan.

Abbott will have to make a call about the mood of his colleagues and decide how hard to go on this issue in coming weeks. This area has been a signature one for him and his weakness would be highlighted if he could only attract a handful of naysayers.

The ConversationObviously, the stakes are a great deal higher for Turnbull. If things went badly for Turnbull in his pursuit of the Finkel option, it would be a major disaster for him and his government. When it comes to emissions policy, Turnbull is always walking on the edge of a sinkhole.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.