Solar Thermal

A new solar thermal plant with molten salt storage is currently being built in Port Augusta and is supported by all state parties and the Federal Government as far as I can determine. The system has a vast array of mirrors that focus the sun’s energy on a collector atop a large tower and this heat energy is used to boil water to create steam to power a turbine to generate electricity.  It also stores that heat in a variety of salts and that heat can be used to continue to run the turbines when the sun no longer shines.

It is most likely a good plan, an excellent way to incorporate a rural area in the modern scheme of energy production. It does have its limitations and drawbacks, as do all of our possible energy systems.

First up, it only has a maximum storage capacity of 8 hours. Which means, in winter for example there will be no energy production from about mid night until 8 am or later.  Overseas this shortfall is generally provided by a gas backup system which perhaps should be incorporated in Port Augusta (will require connection to a gas pipeline).

The salts used are also problematic and have caused serious problems overseas with fires, corrosion and toxic fumes. Potassium nitrate or saltpetre is one that is used due to its low temperature melting point, but it gives off plenty of nitrogen oxides.  These gases are essentially why diesel vehicles are being banned in major cities abroad.

Large water use is another issue with the mirrors requiring regular cleaning and providing for the boilers. Anecdotal evidence suggests birds are fried in the immense heat, but this has been rejected by the manufacturer.

SA Best

Frying birds reminds me of the problems originally perceived for wind power, where wind turbines were anecdotally killing native birds as well as destroying humanity with infrasound. Nick Xenophon was an active agitator against infrasound and once decried the use of wind turbines.

It appears that SA Best are now a major supporter of all things renewable. Their energy spokesman Graham Davies would appear to be a lover of spin and hyperbole. He is quoted as saying “(Labor) is fracking up the south east and promoting drilling in the Bight” and that “they are offering incentives to these projects” and “SA-Best oppose these specific projects.”

The problem is that there are no frac projects in the SE.  None are being proposed and none have been proposed in the past.  They may well be in the future, depending on the results of drilling. The current government is supporting conventional gas drilling and their first venture has resulted in a large conventional gas discovery where any gas produced is legislated to be used in SA.  This should alleviate any need for a domestic gas reservation policy in SA.  Is SA-Best opposed to conventional gas drilling in the SE and is Troy Bell, the local independent also anti gas drilling?  One would assume so, from what has been published in the press.

It is unclear whether SA-Best will support conventional gas drilling, onshore or off.  If gas drilling does not go ahead then there is no need for a reservation policy and we would be reliant on eastern states coal for backup!  If fraccing is banned in SA then their will be little to no gas industry here as the Cooper Basin gas wells have been fracced on a regular basis since the 60s.

SA-Best also seem to be playing fast and loose with their stated wholesale electricity prices, which creates a problem for their 20% off or you are out policy. Their website states that the average 12 month wholesale price was $50/MWh (5c / kWh) in December 2015, $70 (7c) in December 2016 and $110 (11c) in December 2017. Now at first glance this seems to be at odds with the AEMO published figures I showed in part 3 of this blog ie 6.7c, 12.3 c and 9.4c.

Then I realised that Nick’s figures are annual, rather than AEMO financial year. Now we are quite well aware that there were issues in the summer of 2016 / 2017 and while the Libs opted to leave out the lower prices for the latest year, Nick fiddled the figures differently. This allows him to say that he has reduced wholesale prices from 11c in Dec 2017 to 9c in Dec 2018, a reduction of 20%!

Lies, damned lies and statistics!!  Which reminds me that there are many ways to present data. Here is one from the OECD suggesting Australia is in the middle of the pack when looking at electricity prices from an affordability perspective. Not that I am in any way suggesting we should not be trying to do all we can to reduce prices.

Next week, the best ways to reduce power prices and a summary of each party.



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