Twenty five years ago electricity industry people had suggested to me that there were plans to upgrade the grid in Australia to the 500 KV standard of many other industrialised countries.
This was being planned, they had said, because without it we would face power distribution problems in the future.
Well, that future may have arrived, and our governments have dithered about and not put this vital infrastructure in place. Now we are faced with the consequences of an aging and not well coordinated grid system straining to provide reliable supply around Australia
To add to the grid system deficiencies, our coal fired power stations, as well as our hydro system, are aging, and there seems little planning to increase their capacity or to replace them.
While governments are often wrongly blamed for civil problems, I feel that our government has failed us on this important issue. They appear to have been unable to decide whether to pander to the “green” lobby and be distracted into the “”sustainable alternatives”” thing, or develop plans to handle this looming problem with long term plans in a properly engineered way.
As well, two other factors that may hinder rational planning on power, have come into being because of government inertia.
The first is the loss of momentum to provide our country with a two-tiered system, being Commonwealth and Local governments. This has been mooted for a long time, but little has been done, apart from some council amalgamations.
The other is maintaining the integrity of our power grids over all of Australia, and preventing the selling off of essential country assets. (some have been “”privatised””)
These two failures may now compound the problems of planning a way forward for the reliable supply of electric power into the future.
Now, and because of these omissions, the planning of major multidisciplinary and multi-territory works will be made that much more difficult.
As far as a reliable and capable electricity supply is concerned, we may need to make some necessary and potentially unpopular decisions. I can see three, and in order they are:
1) Upgrade our grid system to 500 kV (or maybe higher, some countries use 750kV) to provide the means of distributing power around Australia economically and reliably. This is a big and expensive job, but would provide quite a few jobs for some years.
2) Phase out burning coal in our thermal power stations, and convert them progressively to coal seam gas, which is much less polluting in combustion and much less environmentally damaging in its extraction. Again, a big project, but providing many jobs.
3) During this time, a window of possibly fifteen years, we need to commit to, design and progressively instal a number of advanced nuclear power generation facilities. Even more jobs, for many years.
These need to be enabled to provide enough electricity for us to survive through the changes impacting us from climate change over the next 20 or 30 years.
While we cannot predict exactly how climate change will affect us, it is a reasonable assumption that we will need A LOT OF POWER to handle it. Nuclear power can provide this level of energy supply, over a long period of time and it is believed that the new generations of nuclear power stations are more efficient and easier and safer to operate than the old technology. As well, Australia is one of the fortunate countries that do not need to import uranium for power generation.
We live in an increasingly power hungry world, you just need to think of all the millions of small electronic devices being charged up every night, our increasing use of electric cars, and the power to run thousands of aircon units and households in general. This is a rapidly escalating reality.
While renewables may provide some of the power some of the time, at their present stage of deployment, they do not appear all that consistent.
If we don’t face our power problems shortly, we may endure some uncomfortable times in the near future.