The Abbott Government has cause a mild stir within the passionate alternative energy community by asking the Clean Energy Finance Corporation not to put any more money into wind-power, but to look at new technologies, including solar power storage. If it had its way, the Government would simply have ended the Corporation altogether at the beginning of its term, but it didn’t and still doesn’t have the votes necessary in the Senate to bring that off.

The request prompted indignation and warnings from within ‘the wind industry’. Here is an example, from the Sydney Morning Herald:

The decision is another blow for the multibillion-dollar wind industry, which has just started to recover from the uncertainty created by the government’s Renewable Energy Target review. Analysts say $8.7 billion is expected to be invested in wind power in the next five years, while the corporation has invested about $300 million in wind projects to date.

and another, from the ABC’s The Drum:

It’s hard to imagine a fledgling industry being attacked and undermined by a national government the way the renewables sector is by the Abbott Government.

It might not be so shocking if we were talking about an industry that had a business that damaged community health (like, say, tobacco) or threatened the health and safety of current and future generations (like, say, coal). But renewables provide energy that is clean, safe and potentially very good for Australia’s economy.

You read stuff like this all the time. The wind industry simply wouldn’t exist without the subsidies that are provided for alternative energy sources. The ACT Government is doing another ‘auction’ on wind power to ensure that the ACT gets 90 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. I’ve written about that absurd ambition before. When you turn on your light switch, 70 per cent of the power, on average, comes from coal-fired electricity generation. What the ACT Government is doing is adding to the national grid the equivalent of ACT electricity consumption (at 70 per cent by 2017, and 90 per cent by 2020, if things go to plan) that is produced by renewable sources, including wind. Why? Because it ‘believes’ in ‘climate change’, to use Bill Shorten’s verb a day or so ago.

In doing so it is adding to everyone’s energy costs, to no benefit whatsoever. Global temperatures will not be affected in any discernible way, and that is the ultimate reason for going to alternative energy. Wind turbines suffer from ‘intermittency’, meaning that the wind doesn’t blow all the time, or at the same force from one minute to the next. Adding turbines to the grid means that some other source of power has to be there as back-up. That other source, overwhelmingly, is based on fossil fuels. Why are we doing this? It seems nuts to me in terms of cost-benefit ratios.

If you want to read a detailed analysis of wind power as a contribution to the grid, go to Rud Istvan’s long essay on ‘Intermittent Grid Storage’ here. The main problem is that of storage. Yes, we can generate a lot of solar power in the middle of the day in summer in the desert. But not at night. Can we store the day power for use at night? Well, yes, but not very well, and not on a large scale.

The best and most reliable storage is pumped hydro — pumping water uphill during the day, or when the wind is strong, and releasing it downhill at night through the dam’s turbines. Pumped hydro is about 80 per cent efficient (you lose 20 per cent just  pumping water uphill), and virtually all of the world’s energy storage is a form of pumped hydro. You need two reservoirs, one uphill and one downhill. We don’t do this in Australia, save at Tumut 3 in the Snowy scheme, though we could do much more in the way of hydro power. Why not? The Greens and their sympathisers don’t like it. Too much political hassle

There is no effective storage yet in any other way. There are stories of giant (1 cubic kilometre) vats of salt that one would heat during the day, and then release heat to power turbines at night. So far they haven’t proved effective. Smaller batteries can work for households, cars and to deal with short-term emergencies. I conclude with something I wrote a year or so ago.

But wind turbines are simply a delusory addition to grid power. They require back-up for when they are not running, their contribution is much less than their stated ‘capacity’, and it is entirely likely that in terms of greenhouse gas emissions they produce more GGE in their construction and erection than they ever save. As with solar power, there are places where they make good sense, like isolated farms and settlements. Investing large amounts of our money to add them to the grid, ours being now the largest in the world, simply makes no sense at all.

Yet whenever anyone takes a shot at this ‘industry’ supported from the beginning by taxpayer’s money, which does not and cannot provide effective power for homes, industry and service, we get a barrage of propaganda. I am reminded of something that Leonard Schapiro, a great student of the Soviet Union, once wrote:  the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.

This quotation might also be the work of Alan Bullock. In either case, I am happy to jar away.

Long footnote: In a recent piece I pointed to evidence that in fact things are getting better, for the broad mass of humanity, and even for the broad mass of Australians, than was the case in the past. And since writing it I’ve come across a couple of graphs that emphasise that point. Both are about the rate of homicide. The first is a comparison of several European countries. 6a00d83451b14d69e20147e1f8c6c0970b-450wi

The second refers to California.


Yes, I agree that the early figures can’t be relied upon, but those who do this work, criminologists for the most part, do their best to provide sensible accounts of what happened in the past. What both graphs tell us is that homicide rates have come down, as they have too in our own country, though I don’t have a similar graph to back that statement up. Europe and California and Australia are not becoming either more violent or more lawless, despite what you will see on the TV news.

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • David says:


    The Government’s argument is all over the shop. On the one hand they argue that they can’t invest in wind power because they only want to invest in “cutting edge” technology yet on the other hand they argue that burning native wood should be included in the RET. Apart from the obvious that burning wood will increase CO2, even for a dinosaur like Abbott, burning wood can hardly be seen as a new technology!

    • Don Aitkin says:

      They are separate areas of debate, but in any case, I agree. They don’t want to antagonise too many environmentally-conscious voters, but they probably figure that there’s enough irritation with wind power to have a go at that.

  • Don Amoore says:

    Don, I understood that the Snowy Mountain Scheme did employ “pump back up the hill” – I maybe wrong.

    For example, the Tumut 3 hydroelectric
    station has Australia’s largest pumped hydro storage capacity (1500 megawatts),
    an elevation difference of 151 m, and a substantial lake that must cope with
    major floods. But a small off-river system could be built nearby, comprising
    twin 13-hectare reservoirs with an altitude difference of 700 m, connected by a
    5 km pipe traversing a powerline route. This system would store enough water to
    deliver 1,500 megawatts for three hours, and would cost much less.

    Tumut 3 Power Station consists of six 250 megawatt (MW) hydro-electric
    generating units, all capable of either generating electricity or operating in
    synchronous condenser mode. In addition, three of these generating units
    have 200 MW underslung pumps used to return water via the pressure pipelines to
    Talbingo Reservoir

    Also re wind power in Scotland they have a problem with them

    “Wind farms causing water pollution”

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Thanks for that. I have actually visited Tumut 3, so that was a brain snap, or senior moment. I’ve changed the text accordingly.

  • kvd says:

    Don, there is also a small hydro capacity in Kangaroo Valley – – the towers for which, I have to explain at least once a week to visitors 🙂

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    When the money runs out, when the subsidies cease to flow, when the favourable prices and mandates to use energy from wind farms continue no longer, so will the maintenance of those spinning turbines. Lonely among a backdrop of fleecy clouds will stand these derelicts, white ghosts of slender trunks standing alone after a firestorm of idealism and opportunism.

    Despite Joe Hockey’s distress, these graveyards will continue to serve a moral purpose, reminders for today’s young of the foolishness of their parents’ generation.

    • JMO says:

      Yes Peter, you are correct. The US is littered with old disused windmills, so is Germany where they use the old epoxy based blades as fuel for coal fire power stations.

  • David says:

    2015 set a global temperature record which was last set in the year,…. 2014.

    “How many beans makes six ?” 🙂

    • Dasher says:

      So whats the revised date for the next tipping point David (I have lost count). Need to make sure it fits into the paris talks at the end of the year. I seem to remember a flurry of these dire warnings around the time of the Copenhagen conference. As one erudite observer said there difference in the last ten years is so small it would be correct to say in normal conversation that the temperature is the same.

  • Dasher says:


    Is there any truth to the claim that coal fired power stations do not use significantly less coal when the wind turbines are feeding into the grid. Hard to imagine they could regulate the burning that precisely. (when I asked two power stations by email I received very inconclusive responses) If this is true then where is the cost benefit noting as you stated that there is also a great of energy consumed making these machines. (has anyone ever done that obvious sum?) Also agree with Kemmis that there will be thousands of these things littering the worlds landscape in years to come when the inevitable happens and companies go broke and don’t clean up at the end of the turbines useful life. Oh and David what is the difference in this global record than the temperature say, ten years ago? (two thirds of three fifths of @#$%^&& all!)

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I’m not an authority on such technical detail. But my memory is that it is the small-scale gas-powered turbines that are brought into operation when wind power fluctuates. As you say, the coal-burners are hard to regulate, and they take about 24 hours to get to full strength. A poster with the name A Planning Engineer wrote a series of pieces for Judy Curry on this matter (and others related to it), and you might find them there.

      • Dasher says:

        Thanks Don..I shall read the link. Of course if the big burners continue to burn when not needed (whether the small turbines fire or not) that is a serious chink in the argument for wind. Oh and
        i was told that the turbines can freewheel, i.e. not generate power when not needed but again that does not answer the question. I’ll see what i can find out.

        • Dasher says:

          Don the “A Planning Engineer” is outstanding piece and there many links which I have yet to read. It would be wonderful if Australians could have a discussion along the lines that followed that piece before spending massive sums on initiatives that may not suit our intended purpose. Oh, he confirmed the difficulty of regulating base load power but did not go further. It is complicated but we are supposed to be an advanced nation therefore we should be able to deal with this complexity. Of course as came out in the discussion, politics, assumptions to favour a case and penalties to attempt to drive preferred outcomes without proper scientific consideration are a spanner in the works. Thanks mate.

    • David says:

      4 out of the 6 months to June 2015 broke all time records. Smell the coffee

  • […] production). I invite Mr Shorten to read what I have written about wind and solar on this website, here, (and go to the Rud Istvan link he will find there), and read what A Planning Engineer had to say […]

  • JimboR says:

    Meanwhile, the Germans are getting on with the research on how to build a stable grid out of 100% renewable sources:

Leave a Reply