By Bryan Leyland
Net Zero electricity by 2030 using wind and solar power is an impossible dream: the technologies and resources needed to carry it out don’t exist. (“Net Zero” means that we do not burn gas and coal for electricity generation except, maybe, in dry years.)
The report by the Interim Committee on Climate Change stated correctly that we would need fossil fuels for the foreseeable future to keep the lights on during windless nights and during dry hydro years. This report was shelved by the government and superseded by a Climate Commission report that had minimal (if any) input from experienced power system engineers.
The available “emissions free” options other than wind and solar are hydropower, geothermal and nuclear power.
There is strong opposition to new large scale hydropower and geothermal (which emits some CO2) is limited to about 1000MW. Nuclear power is more than 10 years away so we are left with wind and solar power. Unfortunately, the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun goes down every night so if we wish to avoid major blackouts, we need long-term, large scale, low cost energy storage.
The net zero dream requires at least 4000 MW of unpredictable and intermittent wind and solar power by 2030 to meet load growth and replace the energy generated by the current 2000 MW of coal and gas fired generation. I have calculated that by then we will also need something like 2000 MW of long term storage to store surplus wind energy and deliver it when needed and store surplus solar power from the summer time for use during winter evenings. Without it, high prices, shortages and blackouts are inevitable. It will be even worse in a dry hydro year.
There is no suitable storage technology available now or even on the horizon. Batteries are at least 20 times too expensive and lose about 20% of the stored energy over a six month period.
The Onslow pumped storage scheme cannot do the job because it won’t be ready for 10 or 15 years and, anyway, it is not designed to be able to respond to unpredictable wind and solar power. To do that, it would need a very large lower pond and it does not have one. On top of that it is impossibly expensive.
Short of a technological miracle, “net zero electricity by 2030” will crash and burn. Sooner or later it will have to be abandoned. The sooner the better.
So where does this leave the BlackRock proposal? BlackRock must know that an all renewable electricity system by 2030 is an impossible dream. I suspect that they are exploiting New Zealand to add credibility to a corporate virtue signalling exercise.
So what are the real options for reducing emissions from electricity generation?
In the short term top priority is to explore for more gas so we can burn less coal. There is no other way of keeping the lights on at an acceptable price.
We could develop more geothermal power but the resource is limited.
We could develop more hydropower on the Clutha and Waitaki Rivers and on the West Coast. This is certain to be strongly opposed by environmental groups. Anyway it wouldn’t be ready in time.
Nuclear power is certainly an excellent option but the Small Modular Reactors that we need won’t be ready by 2030. Anyway, it will it take years for the decision-makers and the public to accept that modern nuclear power stations are the safest form of major power generation in existence and safely storing nuclear waste is not a difficult problem.
But there is an alternative: accept the latest information from the IPCC technical reports that tells us that RCP 8.5 (an extreme emissions scenario for input into climate models) is now known to be highly unlikely and should be replaced by a more realistic scenario. If New Zealand did this, current predictions of future rapid sea level rise and a rapid rise in temperatures would be replaced by more realistic scenarios that can be managed by adaptation. The IPCC also says that the climate effects of methane have been overestimated by a factor of four. If this was accepted, farm emissions would no longer be a problem. We should also take note that, according to Article 2 of the Paris Agreement we should not be doing anything that reduces agricultural productivity. So why are we doing just that?
This leads us to a commonsense option: review man-made climate change! All the research that my friends and I have carried out demonstrates quite clearly that there is no scientific evidence based on real world data that supports the belief that man-made greenhouse gases cause dangerous global warming. None! The Climate Commission, the Royal Society of New Zealand and the IPCC all told us that they have faith in the climate models (never mind that they have never made an accurate prediction) and they rely on the “consensus of climate scientists”. Consensus has no place in science because it simply amounts to “We all say so, it must be true!”
No one has been able to disprove the hypothesis that the climate changes naturally and man-made global warming plays only a small part.
Which leads to the obvious solution: abandon net zero, abandon the emissions trading scheme, stop subsidising electric cars, forget about agricultural greenhouse gases and rejoice that the increasing levels of carbon dioxide are making our plants grow better and making us all more prosperous. It would also save the billions of dollars we are squandering on a totally futile effort to change the worlds climate.
Bryan Leyland MSc, DistFEngNZ, FIMechE, FIEE(rtd) is a power systems engineer with worldwide experience. He has been a climate sceptic for the last 25 years.
[Post updated 26 Aug 2023.]