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There is an unfortunate partisan divide on the issue of energy which is counter productive for achieving our clean energy future. One example of partisan dismissal is the attitude towards pumped hydro energy storage by non LNP supporters. It’s as if simply because the words ‘pumped hydro’ passed Malcom Turnbull’s lips, it must be a bad idea. How wrong this attitude is.


Pumped hydro and new infrastructure


Pumped hydro is an excellent, and currently unrivalled, method to store large amounts of energy. It is thus an invaluable future tool in transitioning to renewable energy that often has intermittent generation characteristics. Although lithium batteries are an important development (the author researched in this area for a number of years), even a large battery installation, such as was recently built in South Australia, has only a very small storage capacity compared to a pumped hydro scheme, and as such battery installations can be expected to act as little more than frequency control units (which is still a valid use, but a different one than bulk grid level storage).

Tasmania should embrace pumped hydro, as it will allow for greater penetration of wind energy and ultimately greater energy exports via Basslink. With sufficient generation and storage capability, the viability of a second cable improves. Since Victoria is still largely coal dependent, Tasmania should look to target that market for exporting green electricity to displace Victorian coal.

Tasmania also has huge amounts of biomass, mostly branches, bark and reject logs from the forestry industry. These are often burnt out in the open, their energy content going to waste. Tasmania has an opportunity to generate baseload green electricity by capitalising on the potential of biomass, both from waste and dedicated plantations. Additional baseload generation not only provides energy itself, but raising the amount of baseload energy also helps to permit the inclusion of additional intermittent renewable energy generators.

The state government has announced a target of 100% renewable energy. Yet this is an embarrassingly unambitious target, since Tasmania has historically been just shy of the magical 100% figure, due to the dominance of hydro and wind generation. Tasmania should aim for 24/7 export of approximately 1000 MW of energy into Victoria, which will allow that state to lessen its dependency on coal. This is a long term objective that will be highly challenging to achieve, however, if we don’t reach that goal entirely, we may at least find partial success.


Key statistics


2016-2017 Tasmanian demand (GWh): 10527

2016-2017 Tasmanian generation (GWh): 10120


2016-2017 Hydro generation (GWh): 8305

2016-2017 Gas (GWh): 785

2016-2017 Woolnorth holding wind generation (GWh): 1042

2016-2017 on-grid embedded photovoltaics (GWh): 78.5


2016-2017 Peak Hydro power generation (MW): 2025


2016-2017 Basslink imports (GWh): 1372

2016-2017 Basslink exports (GWh): 965


Water storage levels 2016-2017: 34.9 % 


Source: "Energy in Tasmania Report 2016-17" by Office of the Tasmanian Economic Regulator


Industrial users


Tasmania has five major industrial electricity customers that account for around 60% of Tasmania's electricity demand. The industrial processes that consume the energy include zinc production, cadmium production, aluminium production, manganese alloy production, iron ore production and paper production. Producing these metals using renewable electricity is not only important for Tasmania's economy, but it reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emmissions that would occur if fossil fuel power were used for the same purpose.

With a globally soaring population and rapid development in developing countries driving demand for resources, its unlikely that the economic nightmare scenario of these industries simultaneously shutting down will occur in the medium term. Zinc prices are forecast by the world bank to stay strong until at least 2030, as are aluminium prices. Cadmium prices may be vulnerable as the popularity of NiCad batteries wanes, however this is a low volume by-product metal only. The savage river mine has a life forecast to at least 2030. Meanwhile global paper demand is forecast to experience long term moderate annual growth. Since these customers are non-government corporations, in some cases, such as when imported material is being processed, there is a risk that operations could be closed in Tasmania  and moved elsewhere (for example, for zinc production). One way to ensure production stays in the state is to ensure low electricity prices and ample availability.

Tasmania can either plan for success, with every indication that industry in Tasmania will continue to be successful, or we can plan for failures that aren't forecast. But to examine the failure scenario: Tasmania's typical energy demand at any one moment is just over 1 GW, if 50-60% of this is from the major industrial customers, then there would be an approximate surplus of 700 MW surplus if those customers all ceased to operate. This amount of power can be exported by building a single additional cable, which in theory could displace some coal fired generation in Victoria. Such a cable (it may be a third cable if a second one is installed soon) could therefore be a solution to the doomsday scenario of mass industrial shut down in Tasmania that some people worry about (or perhaps even dream about).