It’s All About the Base

Scott Dredge M.AIRAH, Business Development Officer, Innovative Air Solutions

Electricity is the cornerstone of our modern Australia. It lights our homes, cooks our meals, cools our homes in summer and heats them in winter. We use it to store our fresh food and make ice cubes for our drinks. It heats our hot water and it drives our televisions, phones and entertainment systems. It powers our commercial buildings, drives our industry and manufacturing.

So let’s face it, we would be in all sorts of trouble without it – but not many of us pay much attention to how it’s generated and even less about how it’s delivered to our home. We just simply know that when we turn the light switch on it’s there!

But what if one that it wasn’t, impossible you think, but this is where our drive for clean renewable energy is taking us.

Electricity is made up of two different types of demand: Peak and Base. The Base load is supplied by our big powerful and numerous coal fired power stations that produce electricity cheaply, reliably and very efficiently. Yes, very efficiently when running at high load, by digging up the coal that is directly below it, crushing it and burning it. The other is the Peak load. This is supplied by expensive hydro and natural gas power stations.

What’s the difference you ask? It’s very simple. Base load is exactly what it says. This is the minimum required power demand that is being used at any one time. Coal fired power stations are used because they supply vast amounts of power cheaply, but have a down fall: they do not have the ability to load and unload very quickly so they like a nice constant load. Peak is also exactly what it says, when the demand for power increases sharply – this occurs twice a day. One is when we all wake up in the morning and turn on the TV, toaster, kettle, frying pan and the whole of industry firing up. And the other peak time is when we arrive home, turn on the lights, the air conditioners and start cooking dinner. Hydro and Natural Gas power stations are used because they can be turned on and off very quickly, but they are expensive because they don’t supply power all the time (the law of Supply and Demand).

Now for years this has been the status quo. This gave NSW in particular very cheap reliable power – a supply so good we could export to other states. This builds industry and manufacturing and allows us all to prosper. A system so good that even on the hottest days in Western Sydney when we all came home to our fibro ovens and all turned on our air conditioners to relax after a hard day’s work, the power was there.

However, this is all under threat. Our coal fired base load is being eroded, under attack and it will all be felt by us.

Coal, NSW’s best export is now “dirty”, it produces carbon, causes “Climate Change”, burns a non-renewable resource and it must go we are all told. I think we can all live with that concept, but what’s the reality? What’s the alternative?

Solar Panels and Wind Turbines is what everyone says, great free power from the sun! We can all put panels on the roof, generate clean power and sell back to the grid. This is fantastic – let’s all do it. Let’s all take rebates from the government and put panels on the roof of our house. Problem solved!

No, this is not the solution… This is the problem! Now don’t get me wrong, clean free power is great, but please don’t think this clean doesn’t come without a cost, besides the fact it is expensive to manufacture and install. Solar Panels and Wind Turbines attract a high maintenance cost and actually produce electricity at a high cost; but the single biggest problem is that they both produce power at the wrong time, exactly the wrong time, when we don’t need the power, the middle of the day!

By producing this clean power during the middle of the day and feeding it back into the grid when we don’t need it, is actually forcing our Base load power stations to unload, and in fact unload so much that when the peak demand comes, our current Hydro and Gas Fired power stations may not be able to supply enough power to the grid. This is where the problem lies. If the Base load gets too low, the peaks suddenly get larger and in the future our Peak Power stations might not be able to supply enough power. So when we come home from work and try to turn on our air conditioners and ovens to cook dinner, there won’t be power. We will all suffer from brown outs, the inability of the grid to supply enough power to meet the demand.

So, just build more expensive Hydro and Gas fired power stations, good idea. I’m all for building more dams in NSW – like the Greens are going to let that happen. Let’s build more Natural Gas Power stations. Yes, but NSW is running out of Natural Gas. Why do you think the Government has been so pro Coal Seam Gas? Current reports show that the Moomba Gas fields in South Australia will be depleted by 2020 and NSW will suffer shortages as soon as 2016 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-30/gas-shortages-nsw-macfarlane/4980952). Ninety five per cents of NSW Natural Gas is imported from other states. Both the Federal and State Governments know we are running out of Natural Gas. Why do you think we are building a Liquid Natural Gas storage facility at Newcastle and pushing coal seam gas (CSG)? How about wind farms? Great, as long as they are not in your back yard. The jury is out – they are ugly, take up a huge amount of land and they are noisy. We won’t even go into the effect on migrating birds and stock animals.

There is a simple solution for this one. Let’s build a $6bn pipeline to Alice Springs and hook up to NT gas supply. “A”, who’s paying for it and “B” why sell to NSW when we can export it to China and make huge profits.

So what’s the solution? Let’s exclude Nuclear power for now. The first action taken was the removal of the rebates to stop the influx of Solar Panels being installed. The second is to increase the Base loads to reduce the Peak demand. The electricity suppliers have always had this ability, “Off Peak” electricity, where by, a signal is sent power the power lines to turn on street lights and hot water systems. Funny

enough this is now going to be extended to Air Conditioners. The Power Suppliers will allow you to run your air conditioner on cheaper Off Peak electricity as long as they have the ability to turn your Air Conditioner on during the low Peak periods to keep the Base Load up.

The long term solution is storage of electricity produced during the day for use during Demand periods and I’m all for it. Current technologies (e.g. lead batteries) are very expensive and not very environmentally friendly. Research into high temperature salt storage systems and Lithium Ion batteries are ongoing, but at this stage it is still very expensive. Lithium Ion batteries have a habit of exploding if over charged, impacted or charged below 0°C (just type in exploding Lithium Ion battery on YouTube – I found ten pages). Storage of clean energy is the way, but viable options are a long way off. In the future you may actually get a rebate to turn your solar panels off or install batteries in your home.
But for now, I would think long and hard at the long term problem of clean power generation by using a short term solution of installing Solar Panels and Wind Turbines. I call it the “Urinate
in your wet suit policies. Feel good at the time, but you will regret it later”.

Cheap, reliable coal fired electricity has been the cornerstone of NSW success. The failed

Carbon Tax, Green House emission reductions, increase in green power etc., has forced the price of electricity up and forced a lot of industries to close down in Western Sydney and NSW. In particular, the Aluminium Smelters which happen to use fifty per cents of NSW electricity supply.

In NSW electricity is supplied to our power points at 5c/Kwh, but retail we are paying up till 30 cents and it is only going to increase.

To be a successful nation you always use your abundant cheap resources to produce low cost exports to give your citizens a higher standard of living. China has labour, The United Arab Emirates has oil, Brazil has sugar, America has all three etc., etc. Well, Australia (and NSW, especially) has electricity, lots of good quality cheap electricity (albeit not that environmentally friendly), but for some unknown reason we are being charged extremely high prices. Access to cheap electricity would allow us to have a higher standard of living and be able to compete on a world stage. After all it’s your abundant cheap resources that allow you to produce low cost exports and prosper!

It’s all about the Base.

Innovative Air Solutions will provide the best efficient comfort solutions for your staff, equipment and building regardless of the price of electricity or from what source – coal, wind, solar.

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