Facts undermine fossil-fuelled opinion

Tony Abbott has announced yet another investigation into wind energy and health.

The right-wing war on renewables is heating up as the Tony Abbott government announces yet another investigation into wind energy and health, and a review of the Renewable Energy Target.

Australian Financial Review featured an opinion article on January 23 by Alan Moran from the climate change-denying think tank the Institute of Public Affairs criticising renewable energy. Moran said the performance of solar and wind during the recent heatwave in south-east Australia proves the technology’s unreliability.

It seems neither Moran nor AFR made any attempt to check the facts behind his opining.

Moran claimed: “During heatwave conditions in the five days to January 18 this year, wind actually contributed 3 per cent of electricity supply across the Australian National Electricity Market. Nobody knows the contribution of rooftop solar but it could not conceivably have been more than 1 per cent.”

Moran is wrong on several counts. RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson said the highest peak demand periods during the heatwave were smaller than a similar event in 2009 — a time when Australia had much less solar energy capacity.

For Western Australia, a state where 130,000 households have embraced rooftop solar, the peak demand in 2012 made it to 4000MW, while it was only 3733MW last week. The difference between these peaks corresponds closely to the actual installed capacity of 340MW.

Australia’s rapidly expanding solar energy capacity clips peak demand.

South Australia and Victoria experienced a similar impact. The Australian Solar Council reported that in South Australia at the times of peak demand on January 15 and 16, rooftop solar was generating more than 9% of the state’s electricity demand.

Other analysis, investigating data from the Australian PV Institute, suggests that rooftop solar not only reduced peak demand, but shifted the timing of it, reducing the need for expensive open cycle gas generators to start up.

The Australian and Australian Financial Review prosecuted an argument similar to Moran since the heatwave. These articles cherry picked a single point on January 15 when wind generated 7.4% of SA’s demand to raise doubt about the effectiveness of wind energy. But this completely ignores the rest of the picture for that week.

Wind energy delivered more than 20% of South Australia’s demand between January 16 and 17. Tristen Edis of Climate Spectator said wind energy provided 20.4% of South Australia’s electricity supply on January 14; 24% on January 16; and 36% on January 17.

“[B]ased on historical data,” Edis said, “AEMO expects that during the top 10 per cent of summer demand periods, South Australian wind generation contributes at least 8.6 per cent of its installed capacity for 85 per cent of the time.”

That means wind energy has a bankable baseload contribution of nearly 9% during the worst periods of summer electricity peaks. Most of the time wind is actually producing much more than that.

It is troubling that newspapers are willing to publish fallicies about renewable energy at a time when Australia needs to rapidly roll out the infrastructure to reduce its contribution to climate change.

One wonders whether this anti-renewable energy propaganda is an attempt to protect the business model of incumbent fossil fuel generators and vertically integrated gentailers. After all, these entities have been caught off guard by the rise of cheap renewable energy and view the technology as a threat.

Moran said: “Because of our readily available coal and gas Australian electricity costs are intrinsically among the lowest in the world. This was formerly crucial to attracting highly competitive energy-intensive industries like smelting. Australia could once again benefit from low-cost electricity if deregulation freed energy supply from its renewable obligations.”

One has to wonder if Moran is living in the 19th century with these kinds of statements. With 21st century technology companies like Google setting a 100% renewable energy target, Australia’s best opportunity to attract big business to our shores is by having the competitive advantage of a low emissions energy supply.

[First published at Yes2renewables.org. Trent Hawkins was the Project Director of the recently published Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan at Beyond Zero Emissions.]