energy efficiency barriers – problem 1,2,3

They are at the end of political and economic capital and old Generation assets have a problem – they are competing with innovation that promotes efficiency. The problem is not new, just reborn ideals that have new tools available. Recently the ACT Energy Minister said it very well (as reported this week in the RENeweconomy ) as the real issue is not that wind, solar and other technologies are added to the grid. It’s that old and inefficient generators are refusing to leave. Therefore new renewables are not the problem.

Looking at the problems of our energy system as a whole CO2Land org sees, just like our bills read – three pricing areas that can be improved. Or should we say need to be addressed.

Problem 1 – the price of energy is set by a market mechanism that in Australia is opportunistic. Old inefficient generators can remain viable by gaming based on availability and triggers to elevate prices. So long as they remain the ‘baseload’ capability and sufficient ‘events’ occur in the market they will remain viable. With or without a renewable target review, the Old King Coal will remain. But we will pay more – not less. Why? Like an old car it needs maintenance and those costs must be passed through. Of course the fuel cost factors in too.

Problem 2 – the Grid system is a capital hungry beast. Both transmission and distribution networks (poles and wires) are encouraged to overinvest. Overinvestment is encouraged in the name of reliability and capability. How can this be necessary? Our regulatory system set the network charges and penalties. When the prices are set for the charges (network tariffs) the weighted cost of capital and the need for maintenance and cash injections need to be reliably for at least 5 years is part of the formulae. Estimated is approximately 10% more is payed than need be – with or without a carbon price – OK!

So what should we do? Agree to keep up prices or encourage a write down of the asset – In 1996 or thereabouts the answer was do no maintenance other than priority works. The system had sufficient redundancy that it could take it. In this way privatisation can look promising. Then some time later the capital injections will be required again and up go costs – it does sound very much like todays 2014 talk too does it not!

Problem 3 – the issue of managing costs to consumers. This is the vexed issue – the supply side believes costs should go up, demand side costs should go down. Therefore you could say energy efficiency means demand decreases and prices will go down. But, think this Problem 2 shows the networks are overinvested and cost will be recovered even if not actually expended – they can be anticipated! Then think Problem 3, the market anticipates events 5% of the time and this accounts for 20% of the costs. A nice little earner lost if you change that!

We know some of you will be saying but a capacity market will fix that, just change the rules will be your cry. The reality those with the courage to change things will have 5 years to bring about the change and then need to predict 2 years in advance. They will need to establish how to impose penalties on the gamers. And, we know the gamers are very good at lobbying for no change. They might even say climate change bah humbug!

But, you know all three problems have another issue: Each problem area participant can be asked what does efficiency mean to you – The answers are very likely to differ and that is an issue for policy makers too. Think this – Federal government will side with security of supply, state with balance of supply and local and consumers with the cost of supply. Makes for interesting responses does it not!

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