Who is really taking the hatchet to renewable targets?

I think the end game behind this renewed push against renewables (if you will pardon the pun) is not actually about energy security or even building droves of new coal fired plants, next generation or otherwise, or just about ideology, but about money.

For owners of only semi dispatchable large fossil fuel and by extension their fuel suppliers generators; coal fired plants and combined cycle gas plants (unlike their more emissions intensive cousins the open cycle plants they cannot ramp up and down a very short notice.) renewable power is a problem because it eats into their profit margin. It also impacts coal producers by reducing demand and suppressing the price and the requirement for new production

Whenever the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, even at the relatively low penetration rates for renewable generation around Australia, all these plants but those supplying the very bottom of what is termed ‘baseload’ have to stand idle. This causes a number of knock on effects:

  • Additional costs imposed by being forced to switch off and on and or ramp output up and down (extra wear and tear etc.);
  • Loss of income during idle periods while fixed costs remain;
  • A requirement to bid higher to make up for lost income during periods when they are able run.

Now attacking renewable targets (apart from being a brave policy since they are popular. This doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in targeting them since they had temporary success in target climate action. Majority support as recently 2009 was flipped around in the following years with the carbon tax scare and has only recently flipped back round again) is not going to change this aspect of the energy market since the capacity is there and it is not going to vanish now matter how purple Barnaby gets. Even if all state targets and the federal targets eventually got knocked on the head by 2019 the total renewable capacity of the NEM and SWIS would still be higher than it is now, and the problem of profitability for many of the fossil fuel generators would remain.

What it would do is potentially buy time for existing infrastructure to fully recover their initial investment plus margin. If we are 30/40% renewable by 2030 some important people are going to lose money and this, combined with the raging fire of far right anti-anything-sustainable-feeling-empowered-by-Trump-victory rage of course, is what is behind the push. Actually building new coal fired next generation plants is merely the fever dream of reactionaries, thermal coal mine owners and gentailer executives who want their company to fail.

The reasonable question in response to my angle is: Why is this suddenly an issue now when some of these targets are over a year or much older? I think the answer lies again in renewables popularity. They simply haven’t had the hook until the South Australia storms and then heatwave has presented them with blackouts to spin as being as a result of renewable energy dependence.

My view is that the bed is made on the death of coal and the tories should just live with it and stick to trying to wedge the opposition with enabling racism etc. rather than flogging a dead horse, but hey, what do I know?


Ian Pilmer can’t add up, luckily he is a Geologist.


Energy Produced by 1 KW Solar Array against car manufacture.


Perth average daily generation for 1 kW array = 4.4 kWh per day (source)

Most panels are guaranteed for 20 / 25 years. We will use a conservative estimate of 15 years.

Panel efficiency Loss of 0.5% per year (source) with 3% in the first year (source)

Average energy to build a car 260 gallons of petrol (source) equivalent to 33.41 * 260 = 8686.6 kWh (conversion)


First the total energy output by the panels:


Over 15 years = 22720.66 kWh

Therefor a 1 kWh array produced enough energy to make 3 normal cars in it’s lifetime. Put another way reading off the graph it produces enough energy after just over 5 years to produce 1 car. Therefore, for what the prof says to true then the unsubsidised cost of producing a 1 kilowatt array would have to be three times more expensive in energy terms than three new cars. Put down your pencils everyone. We don’t need to work out if somehow it takes more energy to put together a few kilos of silicon, some copper wire and small electric inverter than to make three cars, cause it don’t.