While the vast majority of Australia’s energy industry gets on with the shift to renewables, the federal government continues to tie itself in knots over the future of coal-fired power.
Beholden to a powerful fossil fuel lobby, and hamstrung by a number of die-hard coal fans within its own party ranks, the Turnbull government refuses to let go of the notion that the nation’s ageing coal fleet should somehow be preserved.
It even believes that new “clean” coal plants might be built to support the northern reaches of the National Electricity Market.
But this is not the reality. And you don’t have to take our word for it.
Rather, take it from Chloe Munro – an energy market expert whose extensive industry experience ranges from helping to “lovingly craft” the NEM more than 20 years ago, to chair of the Clean Energy Regulator, to recently advising the Finkel Energy Review, to independent chair of AEMO’s expert panel.
Speaking in a panel discussion on how to achieve 50 per cent renewables without comprising grid stability, Munro told the ABB Customer World conference in Melbourne on Thursday that by about 2030-35, half of Australia’s remaining coal power fleet would be gone. And wouldn’t be coming back.
“In my view,” she said, “It’s not likely much of it will be replaced with (new) coal. And there are three reasons for this…”
1. Coal power is expensive
“First is simply cost: A new coal-fired power station is an expensive thing to build; renewables are still coming down that learning curve … so we will see the continuing shift to renewables on the supply side,” Munro said.
2. It’s not flexible enough
“There’s certainly a role for gas in the transition (to renewables) … being able to ramp up and down quickly. But there really isn’t the demand for baseload power that just chugs along and is really only efficient if it is operating at near full capacity, consistently, 24/7. The demand for that is just (not there).
“So that’s the second reason. it’s not flexible enough,” Munro said.
3. Because it’s emissions intensive
The third reason why new coal power won’t be built on Australia’s future NEM, said Munro, is because it’s a major source of the sort of greenhouse gas emissions that we should be eradicating from our electricity sector if we are to have any hope of meeting our Paris climate targets, pledged to by the Turnbull government.
“We really need to get serious about emissions reduction and that means that there’s going to be less coal in our whole fleet going forward,” she said.