When we were preparing our Generator Report Card 2018 (in conjunction with Jonathon Dyson’s team at Greenview Strategic Consulting) we felt like we were one of the few speaking about the way in which the current methods of support for ‘Anytime/Anywhere Energy’ were leading to the creation of a ‘schism’ – which would end up hurting, rather than helping, the efforts at actually making the energy transition work:
(A) About this ‘Schism’
When the report was released we noticed that the ‘schism’ was picked up by some people that covered the release. However, I’m not sure we’d explained it clearly enough there – furthermore, it seems that in the period since that time there has been no real shift in the methods of support that continue to be used:
1) The national scheme continues as legislated (though obviously this is reaching the end of its run, so it’s understandable that it just be left to run its course);
2) Perhaps more telling has been that the state-based schemes for support of renewable development appear to have continued (to our knowledge) without any real nod of understanding that the time and the place of generation are essential components of making the energy transition work;
3) From what we have seen, it’s continued to be the same for many corporate pronouncements of ‘greenness’ which trumpet a high percentage renewable energy on the mistaken assumption that the grid is this limitless (in time and space) ‘battery’ that we can draw on infinitely to conveniently overlook the limitations of time and space.
4) The list goes on …
(a) Proponents who seem to believe that by the magic of block-chain, I can somehow trade my ‘surplus’ solar to my Aunt who may not live in the same suburb, or even city as me.
(b) This growing push for Virtual Power Plant and Small Generator Aggregators – which at least acknowledge the time component, but look the other way in relation to location.
(c) Same with the principles of aggregating small chunks of negawatt-based Demand Response under the new Negawatt Dispatch Mechanism (due to take effect 1st October 2021).
(d) And, of course, blind incentives of various forms for rooftop PV – with an ongoing boom in installation rates heralding fast-approaching challenges of minimum demand levels.
… and so on
I returned to this theme on 9th March 2020 to wonder why ‘We’ve been killing New Entrants with kindness?’ (because of Villain no 7 in this evolving energy transition train derailment).
Even then, I was still not sure these constraints are really registering where they need to, in order that our transition can grow in maturity?
(B) Growing realisation?
… however there does seem to be a few glimmers of realisation, as we’ve recently seen a number of developments, such as:
Article #1) about Google’s transition
Jess Shankleman’s article on 14th September 2020 in Bloomberg online ‘Google Targets Carbon-Free Power For Data Centers by 2030’ includes the recognition that:
“To deliver clean energy around the clock Google will use a bundle of measures including pairing wind and solar projects, using more batteries to store power and investing in artificial intelligence to improve power demand and forecasting.
The decision shines a light on the inadequacy of companies using renewable energy certificates to meet their climate targets instead of directly buying power from projects.”
… so it’s great that they talk about this inadequacy – though even this won’t necessarily deal with the spatial nature of the supply/demand challenge.
Another of our keen readers has pointed me to the Google policy/report ‘Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights’ is here and I note that this was published in October 2018. Seems to me that it was a shame that:
1) This paragraph at the start of the report was not given enough emphasis:
“Reaching our 100% renewable energy purchasing goal was an important milestone, and we will continue to increase our purchases of renewable energy as our operations grow. However, it is also just the beginning. It represents a head start toward achieving a much greater, longer-term challenge: sourcing carbon-free energy for our operations on a 24×7 basis.”
2) With respect to this particular quote, I’d just like to highlight two things:
(a) We very much agree that it is a ‘much greater’ challenge to do this bit, as they noted; however
(b) We are also quite concerned about those who seem to view it possible to solve the emissions challenge in this simplistic sequential order:
Step 1 = plonk down enough wind and solar capacity that generates ‘anytime/anywhere’ to enable the company (or a territory, like the ACT for instance!) to crow about 100% greenness; but
Sequential Step 2 = only then (for Google, and not even yet for the ACT – though recent talk about batteries within the ACT might be belated recognition there?) to worry about the time aspect (which is where Google appears to now be focused); notwithstanding
Unstated, but implicit Sequential Step 3 = that they still have to acknowledge, and then resolve, the complexities of ‘place’.
3) It should be clear to everyone that this sequential approach can’t work for a whole interconnected grid;
4) Perhaps less visible is what we worried about in the GRC2018 (i.e. the creation of the ‘schism’ as discussed) was whether viewing this transition as these particular sequence is not actually creating to other problems, in terms of encouraging/facilitating a growing band of new entrants for whom the ‘time and place’ challenges are an afterthought … which has led in the NEM to investor, generator & contractor grief about the physical aspects of operating an industrial facility in the interconnected, skinny system that is the NEM.
Just like crop farming is nowhere near as simple as ‘sowing some seeds and sitting on the porch to watch the profits grow’ (i.e. the romantic notion of farming – with the reality having crushed many dreams)
… so the romantic notion of solar/wind farming has led to grief as an increasing number become burnt.
On 17th September, Jonathon Dyson and Marcelle Gannon spoke together about some of these challenges in a forum organised by the CEC entitled ‘Maximising profitability in the NEM’ for wind farms. This followed an earlier session in May focused on solar farms.
Let us know if you’d like more information about what was discussed there?
Article #2) From PowerLedger’s founder
Just last week (on 7th October) I noted Jemma Green from PowerLedger had written ‘The rise of renewable energy certificates’ in Forbes. In Jemma’s view the problem with RECs is as follows:
“To understand RECs, it helps to know that they were never designed to be traded. Indeed their trading potential only became apparent a little while after they were launched. If they seem imperfect, it’s precisely because they were never designed to do what we are now asking them to do.”
To me, the problems with RECs are deeper than that they are traded. Time and space are definitely factors that have been overlooked … to everyone’s detriment.
(these articles, and some others like them, have been indexed into our evolving Asset Catalog – which is growing from the earlier Generator Catalog, and which a growing number of clients have been given access to).
‘Better late than never!’, is the common statement that might be applied to this gradual awakening – however I really do still wonder about all of the stress/risk/loss that’s been caused to new entrants through the assumption that a percentage can be considered valid without also considering time and place.
(C) Pushing our understanding further…
We’re collecting ideas for what we might focus in on for the next issue of the Generator Report Card, which we would use to continue stretching our understanding of the various challenges confronting this energy transition – and would look forward to hearing your suggestions?
1) Please leave a comment below (publicly) if you like, or contact me directly.