‘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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Morrison finds his productivity report is useful for Labor too


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Treasurer Scott Morrison on Tuesday said reform was harder now than in the 1990s.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Just as the government hopes it is making progress on the energy conundrum, it finds itself struggling on another front of deep public disgruntlement – the NBN.

The rollout of what’s generally considered a second rate model is producing a high level of complaints. Monday’s ABC Four Corners program showed how customers in Australia are getting an inferior service compared with New Zealanders.

The government predictably is blaming Labor, though much of the trouble stems from scaling back to a cheaper version than the one it inherited. Malcolm Turnbull, who oversaw the NBN as communications minister, argues it’s obvious that as more houses are connected, the number of complaints rises. That logic only goes so far.

Faults with household and business internet services are sensitive consumer issues. The blame game only increases people’s irritation. It’s been the same for months with electricity, as the government lambasted Labor while trying to get together its own energy policy, which it released last week.

Essential polling released on Tuesday indicates that at this early stage people are not hostile to that policy, but many are confused.

More than a third (35%) approved the proposed National Energy Guarantee, with only 18% opposed. But the “don’t know” category is 47%.

People divided fairly evenly when asked whether they approve the government’s decision not to include a Clean Energy Target in the new plan – 35% approved, 32% disapproved, and 33% were “don’t knows”.

But many people retain their strong attachment to renewables. Asked whether they approved the government decision to phase out subsidies for these, 41% disapproved, 32% approved.

This result shows that in political terms, it could be sensible for Labor to accept the basic structure of the government’s scheme – and promise to improve on it. At Tuesday’s Coalition party room, Turnbull predicted Labor would propose a higher level of renewables within the Coalition’s policy framework.

If so, that would provide a measure of bipartisanship, which would at least encourage investment.

As the government and opposition argue over the claim the new policy could bring down prices by a small amount – a proposition to be tested by the modelling the government commissioned last week – the Essential polling showed the public are healthily sceptical. Only 16% think it will; 31% believe it will increase prices.

The grim reality faced by the government is that it is hard to get any messages through the high level of public distrust, and this is exacerbated when the messages chop and change.

It’s not just in the energy area where this has happened. Since the Coalition won office in 2013 it has had to alter course on many policies and much of its initial ambition.

The early attempts of the Abbott government at swingeing changes quickly collided with the realities of an angry public and a truculent Senate.

Releasing a report on Tuesday from the Productivity Commission (PC) on Australia’s productivity performance, Treasurer Scott Morrison said reform was harder now than in the 1990s, when there was “a lot of low hanging fruit” and “the burning platform” of recession “focused the debate and compelled greater bipartisanship”.

These days, he said “reform comes more stubbornly and incrementally”.

“We also need to understand that many Australians are now far more sceptical of change. Whenever governments mention the word ‘reform’ or ‘productivity’, they get nervous. They’ve seen this movie before.

“Unlike last time when economic reform was a mystery to most, this time around Australians are more alive to the costs of change as well as the benefits.

“Plus, the economic and political bandwidth available for change is narrower than it once was, made more difficult by the binary way change is viewed and exploited. Who are the winners and who are the losers? Where is the conflict?” Morrison said.

While his argument is right, other factors were also important to achieving reform in the 1980s and early 1990s under the Hawke-Keating government. Some of the change involved trade offs, under the accord with the trade union movement. And reform was better sold by the political leadership than today.

The PC report promotes a reform agenda focused on individuals, “involving the non-market economy (mainly education and healthcare), the innovation system, using data, creating well-functioning cities, and re-building confidence in institutions”.

The recommendations are a mixed bag of old and new, the sensible and – as happens with the PC – the near impossible, either politically or practically (such as automatic dispensing of medicines).

The report’s language is redolent of that used by Labor, notably when it says that “a key issue will be to ensure that future economic, social and environmental policies sustain inclusive growth — by no means guaranteed given current policy settings, and prospective technological and labour market pressures.

“Productivity growth provides a capacity for higher incomes and poverty alleviation — either directly through higher wages or indirectly by increasing the capacity for funding transfers to lower-income households.

“The motivation for limiting inequality extends beyond its intrinsic value to the desirability of avoiding too great a dispersion in incomes, given evidence that this can, in its own right, adversely affect productivity growth. Public support is also more likely for reforms that offer benefits to the bulk of people.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “The Productivity Commission has pointed out that investment in our human capital is the key to economic growth. Well we agree, we agree strongly.”

Morrison is alert to this possible political crossover.

“I haven’t got up here today to talk about a new inclusion agenda”, he told a CEDA function. “I’m talking about a productivity agenda”.

“From a Liberal-National perspective, we’re coming at this quite differently from our political opponents. This isn’t about social justice. This is about more and better paid jobs, because I think that’s the best justice for anyone. … This is about lifting living standards.

“I’m not trying to settle scores in health and education as some sort of social justice wars. I’m just trying to lift people’s wages.

“This is not the product of ideology, it’s the product of economics and the economics say pretty clearly that people [who] are healthier and better equipped through the education system are going to do better.”

The ConversationSharing ground with Labor can be uncomfortable.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k27zv-7889f2?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.

2013 Christian Persecution Report


The link below is to an article that takes a look at incidents of persecution against Christians around the world during 2013. 

For more visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/christian-persecution_n_4568286.html

Cricket: The Ashes Report – 15 July 2013


In the end it was a very close match that England won and Australia lost. The first test of the current Ashes series is over with plenty of controversy and action a plenty. It was a great game, though sadly it will be remembered for the controversy surrounding the DRS as much as for the game itself. But having said that, Australia really did a bad job in the way it used the DRS system, while England handled the DRS masterfully and full credit to them. With just 14 runs between the two sides, the second test has a lot to live up to following this match.

I can’t really make any useful comments on the English team, but as far as Australia is concerned I think it is time for Ed Cowan to be shown the door and for David Warner to return. Failing the return of Warner, who I believe has been sent to Africa with Australia A for some batting practice, perhaps it is time for the return of Usman Khawaja. The Australian batsmen really need to lift their game, because in reality the match was a lot closer than it should have been and they have the lower order to thanks for that – particularly the bowlers.

As for the bowling effort – work needs to be done also. There was far too much waywardness in the fast bowling ranks. Thankfully Nathan Lyon should be banished to the sidelines given the performance of Ashton Agar – a spinner who actually spins the ball and he can bat, which is very handy in the absence of a reliable upper order.

Pakistan: Failed State?


The link below is to an article that reports on the Osama Bin Laden raid report and the view that Pakistan is a failed state.

For more visit:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/07/201379105831620780.html

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 13,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Australia: Report Names Australia as the 5th Most Influential Nation in the World


An article in a British magazine has name Australia as the 5th most influential nation in the world and heaped praise on Kevin Rudd. A nice little article for Australia Day.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/elections/british-political-magazine-gives-foreign-minister-rudd-ringing-praise/story-fnbsqt8f-1226253861237