The ‘Fair Dinkum’ Fallacy — Real Power’s With Renewables

It has been a problem stretching back to the ages; how to find warmth and light when the sun goes down. And apparently it is a problem the Prime Minister is still grappling with.

In his twitter video message to the punters last month, the Prime Minister concedes that “renewables are great, but we’re also needing the reliable power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. That’s what keeps the lights on.”

What do we do when the sabre tooth tigers are lurking out the front of our caves, and we are freezing our butts off in the dark with the sun and wind having failed us again?

Turn to some good old “fair dinkum, reliable energy power” says the PM. That is ‘Canberra bubble’ speak for coal.

But not all Australians agree. In fact, most don’t.

Our exit polling in the seat of Wentworth showed that climate change and renewable energy was the single biggest issue swaying voters at the by-election. The single biggest problem for the Morrison Government is that that opinion isn’t held by people just within the Wentworth electorate.

The Australia Institute’s Climate of the Nation 2018 survey found 70% of all Australians want the Government to implement a plan to ensure the orderly closure of old coal plants and their replacement with clean energy, and 67% of Australians want it to take place in the next 20 years (which means no new coal power plants).

Tech entrepreneur, Mike Cannon-Brookes took to twitter to call BS in response to the PM. Mike has said the Government is “not being fair dinkum about their term fair dinkum power” and outlined a plan to refocus the term on what most people would consider to be fairdinkum power, which is not what’s produced by our current fleet of aging, unreliable coal power stations.

The Australia Institute has been monitoring the reliability of gas and coal power in Australia. In 2018 alone, gas and coal power plants have already broken down 118 separate times. That’s once every 2.6 days.

In fact, just as Mike was launching the reclaimed #FairDinkumPower logo, the infamous Liddell power station suffered its tenth breakdown for 2018.
Liddell Unit 2 broke down at 10:55 on the 1st of November. The dotted red line shows Liddell’s nameplate capacity.

The Prime Minister has been trying to bully AGL, the owners of Liddell, to keep the antiquated coal power plant open beyond its scheduled 2022 closure. NSW maintains a perilously high reliance on old coal plants while many other states (Queensland, Victoria, ACT and South Australia) are switching to renewables. As the Daily Telegraph reported recently, during a normal winter week, half of the NSW gas and coal power stations were broken down or offline leading to massive spikes in energy prices. Nothing #fairdinkum about that. By comparison, solar, wind, and batteries like the Tesla Big Battery in SA are far more reliable.

Saying solar breaks down when the sun goes down is like saying a car breaks down when you’ve pulled out the key.

Solar and wind power works exactly as intended. Renewables can be complimented with low-emission dispatchable power like solar thermal, batteries, pumped hydro (like the Government’s Snowy 2.0 project) and a variety of other technologies. That’s what makes renewable energy so reliable when Coal and gas power plants, with their 118 breakdowns so far this year, clearly are not.

It’s time to reclaim #fairdinkumpower in this country. After all, Captain Cook and the first fleet were running on 100% wind energy when they came to this country, and what’s more fair dinkum than that?

Richie Merzian is The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program Director @RichieMerzian