"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." Richard P. Feynman

Friday, April 30, 2010

Australia needs a solar Snowy Mountains scheme- Like a Hole in the Head!

The ABC dreamers are at it again - solar and wind power are the answer as they are free! Free if you don't count up the billions of dollars to build even a modest solar or wind installation ! Free if you don't count the cost of the duplication of conventional power stations needed to ensure the lights are on 24/7. Free if you don't count the opportunity cost of using the wasted billions elsewhere! I would like to take one of these dreamers to a real power station - to stand in awe at the incredible size and weight and speed of the monster turbines and to get an appreciation that that beautifully engineered  machine is not going to be replaced by sunbeams, sea breezes and pixie dust and that similar machines all over the world power our civilization.

Australia is a sun soaked continent, yet the great potential to power our economy from solar sources is unrealised. It should shock Australians that there is currently no operating baseload solar power anywhere in Australia. Deploying solar thermal technology should be at the centre of national climate policy. It is the best way to reduce the nation's carbon emissions while continuing economic development. With political will and direct action, the Rudd government can spearhead the development of a national solar thermal power system to secure energy supplies and our climate.
There is no baseload solar station in the world let alone Australia because such a thing does not work! Australians should be shocked at how much money is being wasted on this ideological fantasy.

A great simplified explanation of the fundamental engineering problems of large scale thermal solar is to be found here. Basically as the thermal medium loses temperature and cools the power capacity drops rapidly .
A real analysis of the failure of wind power to reduce emissions in a modern power grid is here.
Ignoring the fact that green power is too expensive ,with the intermittent nature of green power large scale storage is a must and the only way to accomplish this  is pumped storage  from a major dam. This works well and all green power could be used to pump water and then used to generate power as required. Problem is solved and we then have "green " power on tap albeit very expensive. However ,when was the last major dam approved in Australia? There are not enough sites available and eco-nuts turn out like blowflies at a picnic when one is suggested.In the UK a study suggested that even if they used all the sites available including Scotlands famous lochs there would be nowhere near enough!


  1. Try doing a search for Andasol on Wikipedia. Your ignorance is astounding.

    Spain is spending $20 Billion building 24 hour solar power (Solar Power around the clock, baseload solar, solar power all through the night)

    And even better plants are built by Torresol and SOlar Reserve with technology developed under contract from US Department of Energy in the 80's by Lockheed Martin.

  2. Gee Matthew, perhaps you should go there and read it yourself, mate!
    It says the plant can produce a nameplate capacity of 50MW, around one fortieth the size of a large coal fired power plant.
    This same Andasol plant you quote can run perhaps providing near full load for around 7 to 8 hours on a summer day.
    It covers an area of 2.5 square kilometres and cost around $420 Million.
    Man, I really am impressed.
    The only way, and let me repeat that, the only way these concentrating solar plants can provide 24 hours a day power is with a Natural gas fired turbine driving the unit for the time the compound is not molten enough to provide steam to drive the turbine.
    That natural gas fired turbine will be emitting, wait for it, 1200 tons of CO2 each day.
    I'll bet that won't figure in Mr Rudd's plans for an ETS.
    Matthew, I'm really impressed by the way you investigated this.
    Now whose ignorance is astounding.

  3. Well said Tony. Some folks ignorance is, as you say, truly astounding!

  4. Time to get up to date. The first molten salt power tower was built in 1978. Then the commercial demonstration was completed successfully by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rocketdyne Laboratories and US Department of Energy Sandia Laboratories.

    Solar Reserve and Torresol both build Molten Salt Power Towers that can run 24x7 at 75%-85% annual capacity factor.

    To put that in perspective NSW entire coal fired generation fleet only averages 63% capacity factor. And it is the biggest in the country.

    Torresol Energy (53 seconds in)

    Solar Reserve (33 seconds in)

    For details on one of their actual projects visit the Californian Energy Commission

    PS your reference at the top is to a completely ignorant guy. These solar thermal plants use 250MWe if running at 75% Capacity factor sized with a 16hour storage tank. If they are sized for 50% Capacity factor then the turbine is rated 375MW. Yes the heat exchanger takes the heat out of the Molten Salt which is banked for night time and cloud transient dispatch.

    Co-firing is an option and can be done with biogas or biomass pellets. It's a cheap option because you only heat the salt directly at normal atmospheric pressure.

    A 250MW plant stores 4000MWhe net of heat in the Molten Salt tanks @ 25 tonnes per MWhe net.

    (Ultra supercritical turbine efficiency is ~44% so you have to extrapolate from there). Temperatures of these plants are 565 or 650. Both produce their steam in small steam accumulators after a heat exchanger operates pulling the heat out of the salt.

    I can recommend a course to you or offer you personal tuition on the subject matter to inform your future comments and help you if you wish.

  5. Matthew.
    For every so called great example you provide, I can provide a counterpoint.
    Try Abengoa Solana at Gila Bend in Arizona.
    Concentrating Solar by the solar trough method.
    250MW, again minimal power when compared to a large coal fired plant of 2000MW.
    It requires natural gas turbine backup, running up to 10 to 12 hours a day on bright sunny days, emitting 1200 to 1500 tons of CO2 each day.
    It will cost $AUD1.2 Billion. By the time it's up and running, it will have been ten to twelve years from the original proposal. The only way they could get the subsidies needed to operate, they had to guarantee that 24/7/365 operation hence the gas fired turbine for out of hours. Like all Solar plants, it only has a 20 year lifespan at best, consumes vast quantities of water in a water deprived area, and still only provides minimal power.
    At the $1.2 Billion cost, how many operators will be flocking to these style plants when, (without enormous subsidies at the construction phase and the power delivery to grid phase, all taxpayer dollars, virtual bribes if you wish) there is little possibility of a return for the investment.
    It's no good offering taxpayer bribes to open them.
    That tremendous cost alone is the killer.
    To replace just one large coal fired plant, you are looking at 8 of these. There's enough problem getting one of them up and running, let alone looking to replace all the coal fired power.
    Construction Time.
    If they were so good, operators would be falling all over each other to get them up and running, something that is not happening anywhere except with those huge government subsidies.
    They will be boutique style plants at best, and even now, no controlling authority anywhere is taking them into consideration when allocating power from the grid for Base Load requirements, and rarely even for peaking power periods.
    As much as you have researched your side of the coin, I have researched mine.
    You'll never see my point of view, and I will never see yours.
    How are the general public supposed to find out facts if only one side of the coin is presented.

  6. I don't care about your counterpoints, if someone is financing a solar thermal type system that I do not personally advocate then it does not effect my argument for molten salt power towers.

    You're mixing up Troughs with Power Towers. You need to go back to school on this one, or I can offer you a fast track course.

    Try reading up on Molten Salt Solar Power Towers...

    Here is 400 pages from the United States' leading power engineering firm to get you started.


    Sunny Solar Regards,

  7. I'm not sure I should even be biting, but while you're speaking of financing, might you reply as to who in Australia might be financing this.
    This won't happen overnight, right now, so from your figures here, let's go out to those figures for 2020, which gives them time to make a start, and keep that 2020 date in your mind.

    As you might expect, the larger the size plant, then the cost comes down.
    They hope to have 200MW plants ready by then.
    Averaging out the two constructors, the price comes out at around $3100 per KW (In USD and today's dollars)
    So for one 200MW plant we are looking at a base price of $700 Million.
    One large coal fired power plant averages at 2000MW. So to replace just one Coal fired plant, we need 10 of these Solar plants. $7 Billion.
    NSW 7
    Vic 5
    Qld 6
    WA 3
    SA 1
    Total 22
    Ten Solar for one coal
    Total solar plants 220
    Total (Base) Cost $154 Billion or in AUD $170 Billion.
    So, over the next ten years someone needs to be putting aside $17 Billion a year.
    Now I understand fully that something of this scale will never eventuate, but even ten of these plants, which may be feasible, still comes to $7 Billion, which is still out of the question, and that number still only replaces one coal fired power plant, and from their own figures, still cannot supply 24/7/365 power from dedicated solar means.
    It's all hypothetical, but not even with huge Government subsidies will any operator move in this direction.
    On top of that comes yearly running costs, not small by those figures either.
    As I mentioned, these will only ever be of boutique nature supplying minimal power, because the scale required is just too large, and might I add, unachievable.
    Now this is a hypothetical for 2020, so before these come on line, we still use those coal fired plants.

  8. The US DOE/Sargent & Lundy numbers are specifying 220/250MWe (net/gross)

    So 8 plants will replace 1 2000MW coal plant. (Go back to the document - double reheat ultra supercritical turbine - now available as per their projection)

    Funnily enough a large 1600MW plant in Victoria consists of 8x 180/200MW (net/gross) units.

    So it's pretty much the same size. Over 50 years of operating coal burning in Victoria's Latrobe Valley the Solar Mirror field takes up less land. And it is not prime agricultural land under the rain/clouds like Latrobe Valley has.

    The plant has an economic life of 30years, however there is no reason the bulk of the plant should not run 50 years. There is much less wear and tear than dealing directly with a coal furnace, large high pressure burner.

    The turbines can be ramped dynamically, unlike the days it takes to ramp a Victorian Lignite power plant that requires a huge amount of fuel just to start the lignite drying process (63% moist lignite).

    And the Latrobe Valley brown coal (lignite) plants us 1/3 of Melbourne's water supply, whereas air cooled (as everyone is proposing with Molten Salt Towers at a parasitic cost of 1.3%) Solar Thermal plants use 10% of the water, that's a saving of 90% of the water over the current system.

    From 2015 we will be importing $66 Billion AUD of oil at US $200 a barrel. Finding 20-40Billion for this kind of plan will be a walk in the park along with getting money for electrifying transport (large scale rail infrastructure)

    We are from a different coins. Mine is genuine gold and yours appears to be counterfeit

  9. Solar or wind, if doesn't matter. There is still no generating capacity when the sun doesn't shine or when the wind doesn't blow, so no matter which option the "Dreamers" go for, there has to be conventional power generating capacity to back it up. This means there is not only a huge increase in capital expenditure, but also precious little, if any reduction in the real operating costs, if we include in those costs all of the relevant investment, opportunity and development write off costs.

    Yes folks, in the real world I live in this huge increase in capital expenditure and operating costs must include the REAL cost of developing and then building the storage medium/s Matthew so enthusiastically espouses and in spite of what he says, Tony makes it perfectly clear this technology is still a long, long way from perfect.

    In fact it is highly likely it will never be perfected; at least not in the foreseeable future, which thankfully Baron recognises when he speaks of a need for dams and the associated pumping facilities.

    In my real worlds, money spent on research and development not only needs to be recouped, but is actually expected to generate returns; hence manylarge companies like BP, who also live in my real world, are now folding their green tents and going home.

    There is just no money in it folks because real people who live and play in the real world just can't afford to pay the cost.

    If we are truly interested in cutting down emissions we already have the answer...go nuclear!!

    Of course, the same "Dreamers" who are the main proponents of solar, wind and all things "Green" just happen to be the same people who gark at the very mention of the word "Nuclear" and maybe that says it all!

    Gold Coast, Queensland

  10. teejay,

    Solar Thermal plants run around the clock and they backup coal, gas, nuclear, hydro and wind plants. (or any combination of those)

    Teejay It is stated very clearly above that the Sun's heat is stored away at full 565C or 650C (Same as coal plants temperatures) and then heat exchanged to create steam and run the same turbines that are present from Siemens and GE in Coal, Gas and Nuclear plants. Store the right amount of heat in the right sized tank(molten salt) with the right sized mirror field to match. And presto 24 hour solar power. It's really easy.

    Teejay My father who is a Nuclear physicist can clearly tell you that it is much more difficult to get a nuclear reaction going and maintain a nuclear plant than to keep a Molten Salt Power tower 24 hour solar facility running.

    Please read up on the issues, all a nuclear plant does is boils water, and it's a lot easier to get the sun to do that, and to store the sun's heat in big salt tanks.

    Time to get an education - and I am willing to offer it to you so you do not get egg on your face in the future when the plants start getting built all over Queensland, So please contact me at the Beyond Zero Emissions website so we can arrange some short courses.

  11. For your information Matthew, I was President of the Solar Energy Industry Association some years ago and also Managing Director of a company that made commercial solar hot systems for caravan parks and the like (we pioneered the process), so I do have an excellent understanding of solar heating principles and concepts and could probably teach you a thing or two about them.

    However my enthusiasm for all things solar did not blind me to the fact that when the sun doesn't shine there is precious little benefit, if any at all, to be had from a solar heating system. Because of this, there is still the need to have a conventional power generating system capable of meeting the full demand; hence my comments re capital cost and ROI calculations which you have simply chosen to ignore.

    How long do you suggest your big brine tanks can store for energy for and how much do they cost to build and install?

    The solar systems we installed also had large storage capacity and with an amortisation period of between 9 and 18 months, the economics were sound. This was largely because of the high rates power companies were charging their commercial consumers at the time.

    Now spending $30,000 to $50,000 on a solar system and having it paid back in say 12 months equates to serious savings for a caravan park, especially considering that with the system fully paid off in 12 months, it was virtually money for jam from then on.

    So how did the power companies respond to this? Simple. As soon as they knew we were submitting a proposal, they reduced their tariffs to the point where the payback period blew out to 10 years or so, which of course then made it extremely difficult for us to compete.

    Why did they do this? Because they had already made a huge capital investment in power generating and distribution facilities that had to pay its way and when they saw what we were doing as a threat, they responded accordingly.

    What makes this even more interesting is that it went totally against their normal marketing strategies which were normally scaled on the basis that the more power you use, the cheaper it gets. Here we had customers using less power and getting cheaper rates...it's called predatory pricing, but being public utilities, they got away with it without so much as a rap on the knuckles.

    Matthew, all of this is offered to demonstrate one inalienable business principle; namely, businesses are there to make profits and to provide a healthy return on investment so the more they spend the more money they need to make to pay their way.

    As long as you continue to suggest that building two power plants (one solar and one fossil fuel or nuclear) to do the same job one plant can do is sound economics you will continue to lose me and please don't insult my intelligence by telling me solar energy is free.

    Instead of getting carried away with your high brow technical arguments, look at the economics and see what they tell you.

    If you do so with open eyes, you are in for a rude shock. And also spare me the arguments about how eco friendly solar is Matthew. Where are the systems made, what are they made of and how much energy and non-renewable resources are consumed in the process?

    Get your blinkers off my friend. Its time for you to get an economic education!!

  12. "hence manylarge companies like BP, who also live in my real world, are now folding their green tents and going home..." When BP gets home, they will find they have some cleaning up to do. Fossil fuels are cheap, if, uh, you ignore some of their issues - spills, pollution, wars....

  13. An ongoing critique & open debate on the Beyond Zero Emissions - Zero Carbon Australia 2020 report is here ->


    This site is run by Prof of Climate Change at University of Adelaide, Barry Brook. A final report and executive summary will be put together in the next week or so. The short answer, as any sensible person who reads it will realise, is that most, if not all, of what is in this report is pure nonsense.

    I would also suggest looking at the comments below this article ->


    where one of the authors James Hutchison has totally failed to answer any direct questions relating to some of the problems with the ZCA 2020 report.