The saying “pie in the sky” was coined by American labour activist Joe Hill. He penned a song criticising Christian labour activists who, in his view, let people live on “hay” in this life, but promised them “pie in the sky” in the next.
For a long time we have been promised our energy version of pie in the sky as long as we just keep investing in renewable energy.
Australia has swallowed this gospel and then some.
We have installed renewable energy at a faster rate than any other country in the world.
Australia has been building renewables at a rate of 200 watts per person per year.
This is more than four times the rate of growth in Europe and North America.
Yet here we are are, with no pie, and power prices that are out of control in a country blessed with energy resources.
To get power prices down we must drop our obsession with pie in the sky solutions that we are told will work in the next world. Wind and solar that is not reliable is the most fashionable but there are a variety of pies that have been promised.
Hydrogen, batteries, pumped hydro and the latest, small modular nuclear reactors. None of these things have been successfully used at scale anywhere. Yet the energy charlatans continue to promise their latest snake oil to a gullible public.
I do think we should consider nuclear but the case for it is undermined when some push the myth that a small scale nuclear reactor can just be bought off the shelf. Modular reactors are still in the design and testing phase and could be years or decades away from commercial application.
We have an energy crisis today and we need solutions that will work within years not decades. The scale of the crisis is hard to fathom and has blindsided our energy regulators who had been drunk on the renewable energy Kool Aid. Since the Liddell coal fired power station shut its first unit in April (its remaining three will shut over the next year) wholesale power prices have skyrocketed to more than 5 times their average levels.
The wholesale power price makes up about a third of the electricity bill you pay in your home. So unless something is done soon your electricity bill will more than double.
The creation and distribution of electricity is a complex engineering challenge that few understand. But because of that there is a tendency to think that the economics of energy is complex too. It is not.
To bring down power prices we simply need to increase the supply of reliable power. To fix the crisis we have now we need to focus on options that work today, not ones that might help tomorrow.
Hundreds of High Efficiency, Low Emission coal fired power stations have built around the world yet we do not have one with the latest technology in Australia. We have the world’s best coal that is best suited to these modern coal fired power stations. We should build some to replace our ageing coal fired power fleet.
We should remove the red and green tape on the gas industry that is creating gas shortages especially in southern Australia. Victoria continues to demand that Queensland send more of its gas to it despite having a complete ban on fracking.
As Ronald Reagan said there are no easy answers but there are simple ones.
We simply need to generate more reliable power because more supply of electricity will bring the price down. If we don’t focus on the real solutions soon our only hope will be to pray for an intervention from the sky.