johnboy 23 May 2007 14

The Canberra Times brings word that ACTEW is responding to the regulator’s refusal to let them charge more for electricity with plans for a series of rolling blackouts.

Two pieces of pricing incompetence are at work here:

1) Underpriced consumer electricity has lead to over-consumption with no incentive for investment on the part of the electricity companies.

2) Underpriced water has meant that water which might have been kept for hydro generation has been wasted in the desert over the last seven years growing cotton. Nearly as bad our coal plants have had no incentive to reuse the water they consume as coolant and are now running out of water to keep the turbines spinning.

And so, once again, willful neglect of economics takes us to back to the dark ages.

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14 Responses to Blackout
Al Al 10:06 am 25 May 07

DLW: I found it a bit mystifying why the ACTEW AGL head would be talking up such an extreme worst-case scenario. But then the next day day Stanhope chimed in with “requesting a recosting of a gas-fired power station” and ACTEW also threw a wet blanket over solar as an option.
Then I realised that this was an entirely orchestrated 2-part performance by the Chief Minister and ACTEW…

I note they also totally ignored that the very days when they would face the greatest problems – hot summer days with everyone’s aircons on full – would be the very days when grid-connected solar would perform best.

DarkLadyWolfMother DarkLadyWolfMother 8:48 am 24 May 07

I’m just wondering why this is ‘suddenly’ an issue. Haven’t we been heading this way for a while now? Or is it just that the CT has ‘suddenly’ discovered it?

shauno shauno 1:11 am 24 May 07

Salt water is a bit of a nightmare its very corrosive just have a look what happens to ships. They have to go through regular dry dock maintenance. And also regular chipping and painting while working at sea. Even stainless steel gets rust and pitting after a while. Titanium is better.

p1 p1 10:40 pm 23 May 07

If your power station is close enough to the coast to use desalinated water, why both desalinating it, why not just use salty water? and if there are engineering reasons that “water used needs to be very pure to prolong the life of the turbines” then use the salty water in the secondary or even tertiary

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 10:07 pm 23 May 07

Maybe we should all get solar panels on our roof

Sounds good to me. I’m on 100% GreenChoice power now, but not much point if there’s no power in the grid in the first place.

futto futto 9:12 pm 23 May 07

No it doesn’t. If anyone hasn’t, you should watch “the smartest man in the room” about the enron collapse.

The movie goes into detail about how a greedy energy companies undersupplied power.

emd emd 7:37 pm 23 May 07

Maybe we should all get solar panels on our roof – ANU developed some really good ones that I hear are now being produced in South Australia. Improve the greenhouse gas situation, and reduce reliance on corporate power providers who can’t meet demand with current technology.

Pandy Pandy 7:20 pm 23 May 07

Not blackouts – brownouts: where the supplier shites over you.

(yeah I know what Wikipedia says about brownouts)

shauno shauno 5:59 pm 23 May 07

Ideally Coal fired power stations should just use desalinated water powered by there own electricity Coal is so plentiful in this country that we can easily spare the excess coal to power desalination. At the same time we produce excess amounts to use for drinking as well.

johnboy johnboy 5:57 pm 23 May 07

there’s always cooling ponds, but at some point they would need to pump the water up hill.

On the bright side all these extra costs should make renewables more economical.

caf caf 5:15 pm 23 May 07

If you want to re-use the secondary coolant you need to have a tertiary coolant of some sort – for which the only choices I can see are more water (obviously gains you nothing) or air. The thermal capacity of air being what it is compared to water, I’m not sure that it’s a practical option in engineering terms, no matter how expensive water is made.

I’m not sure how protected retail consumers are disrupting the wholesale market (which is where the pricing signals that should bring a new generator in are) – surely it is the retail or distribution companies that will get screwed when the spot price goes so high that they can’t recoup their costs from their (price-fixed) retail customers.

Ralph Ralph 5:14 pm 23 May 07

The electricity spot market is indeed a free market, however, the final prices charged to consumers are regulated.


johnboy johnboy 5:03 pm 23 May 07

But being used as secondary coolant does not destroy the water, it’s just been so cheap to them that there’s been no incentive to re-use.

Industrial electricity works very well with a floating market but it’s been the dead hand of protected consumers dragging things down.

The worst case being the evaporative coolers in so many houses guzzling down power and water simply because it’s so cheap why wouldn’t they?

caf caf 4:57 pm 23 May 07

The electricity spot market is a free market, with wholesale electricity being priced according to demand – so if new peak load generators aren’t being built it’s a failure of the market.

The steam used to turn the turbines in coal-fired plants is recondensed (it’s typically a closed cycle, because the water used needs to be very pure to prolong the life of the turbines) – but doing so uses external cooling water in heat-exchangers, and the large amount of energy absorbed by the state change of water from liquid to gas means that the most efficient way to use that external water is to have a lot of it change to gas.

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