The Myth of Sustainable Power from Renewables
By Institute for Energy Research - March 17, 2016
Two islands—one off Spain and one off Australia—are using renewable energy to supply power to their homes and industries in the hopes that they can be free of fossil fuels.
Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia, was virtually 100 percent renewable, but had to bring in diesel generators to get it through an energy crisis.
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands off of Spain, had been 100 percent diesel-powered, but turned to a hybrid wind/pumped storage hydroelectric system to replace the diesel generators, only to find that the island is still dependent on them.
In each case, the cost has been huge, and should be cautionary tales to policymakers who want to tinker with the electricity systems we depend upon.
Tasmania, until recently, had generated almost all its power from renewable energy, touting its “clean, green” image. However, a number of events, including extraordinary weather, mismanagement, a catastrophic technical failure and a carbon tax, have put the island into an energy crisis where 20 portable diesel generators had to be rushed to the island to keep the lights on at a cost of $44 million just to set up. (i
Australia’s carbon tax is also part of the problem, because large volumes of hydroelectric power were exported to the mainland when the carbon tax was in place, maximizing profits for the utility, but also lowering dam levels. Tasmania’s hydroelectric dams, which were once a large source of inexpensive power, are being depleted, with storage levels recently falling to a record low of 14.8 percent.
El Hierro, the most westerly of the Canary Islands, had, for many years, produced its electricity from an 11.36 megawatt diesel plant, supplying 10,920 residents of the tourist island. On June 27, 2014, the island replaced its diesel-fired generation with hydro and wind, planning to save €1.8 million ($2 million) in fuel costs each year. It was hailed as an example of sustainable development.[iii]
To be 100 percent renewable, the wind component would need to be expanded, adding more cost to the system. Even then, the diesel generators would need to be kept for emergencies and down time for maintenance of the wind turbines. This produces redundancy and cost.
While this hybrid renewable system is reducing El Hierro’s imported diesel bill, it is insufficient to cover costs. Assuming it saves about a million euros a year in diesel costs, it would take 84 years to payback the 84 million euros in capital costs if plant operating costs were excluded. Assuming operating costs of 0.05 euros per kilowatt hour results in annual operating costs of more than a million euros a year, resulting in an infinite payback period.
The hybrid renewable system of El Hierro is expensive, inefficient and commercially unviable. Clearly, fossil fuel generation would be simpler and cheaper. Instead of acting as a flagship project to demonstrate the feasibility of 100 percent generation from intermittent renewable sources, it has highlighted the difficulties involved in achieving it.
Neither Tasmania not El Hierro are able to provide electric power without using fossil fuels. And, in Tasmania’s case, the institution of a carbon tax in Australia exasperated its energy crisis. In both cases, trying to move toward 100 percent renewable energy has been very expensive.
Canada Free Press