Ok. You’ve heard a bit from me on a few issues and hopefully have read the Decarbonise SA Action Plan v1. Now, the fun stuff begins: Let’s Decarbonise SA on paper. I expect to learn a lot as we work this through. This interactive energy map is going to help you follow my discussion of the energy make up of South Australia. It is slightly out of date; about a further 100 MW of wind has been installed.

Firstly what is the challenge? Well the magic number is 3,795. That is the number of megawatts of generating capacity in South Australia that needs to be decarbonised. There is another 1,000 MW or so of wind generating capacity in SA. I have no issues with that, it’s going to help get the job done. Let’s give energy efficiency a nod and assume that SA can stabilise energy demand for the next 20 years. If so, replacing that 3,795 MW will mean Decarbonise SA will have reached its major goal (and can then focus on transport…). (I have not forgotten the expansion of Olympic Dam. I am parking that for now). Electricity generation in SA was responsible for about 9 million tCO2-e in 2009, roughly one third the total, and up from 6.5 million tCO2-e in 1990. This is shown below, taken from the National Greenhouse Accounts 2009.

Not only is electricity generation the biggest source of emissions, it seems to be going up the fastest. This is despite 1,000 MW of installed wind power, over half Australia’s national total and one of the highest penetrations per population of any region in the world. This wind penetration has had some observable positive impacts.  South Australia’s electricity consumption has grown more quickly than it’s emissions, and imports from Victoria (which are very greenhouse intensive) have been nearly completely displaced. This is seen in the grid average emissions factor for the state, which is at it’s lowest level in several years (720g CO2/kWh). But the bottom line is that emissions have risen. The positive impacts of the wind power have been far outstripped by growth, and none of our coal power stations have yet closed. For me “slowing the growth in emissions” is sadly another way of saying “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”: it’s so far from where we need to be I can’t really celebrate it. We find ourselves with a balance of 9.1 million tCO2-e, an increase of nearly 40% compared to 20 years ago. Wind can help, but if we are serious about the need to cut emissions to zero rapidly, then clearly wind alone is a failed strategy. We need something more.

Here is the 3,795 MW of fossil generation, broken into baseload, operating and peaking capacity. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn. The figures on emissions are mainly drawn from a site called Carbon Monitoring for Action (www.carma.org ) . [Author’s caution: The site uses MWh, tCO2e, but then drops into imperial units (lbs) for showing the emissions intensity of the plants without showing the unit. This caught me out first time. Thanks to subscriber Neil Howes for the correction. The intensity figures quoted below have been converted to metric].

Name Owned Fuel Type Technology Total Capacity (MW) Reported emissions tCO2-e Commissioned


8.7 million  
Torrens Island A&B AGL Energy Gas Steam Turbine


1.6 million 1967&1977
Northern Babcock & Brown Power Black Coal Steam Turbine


3.6 million 1985
Pelican Point Australian National Power (International Power plc 100%) Gas Gas Turbine Combined Cycle


627,000 2000/01
Thomas Playford B Babcock & Brown Power Black Coal Steam Turbine


1.77 million 1960
Snuggery Synergen Power Pty Ltd (!00% Australian National Power owned 100% by International Power plc100% ,International Power plc) Gas/Other Gas Turbine


50,000 1978 & 1997
Whyalla Onesteel Ltd Black Coal/Gas Cogeneration


785,000 1941
Port Lincoln Synergen Energy (100% Australian National Power owned 100% by International Power plc) Distillate Gas Turbine


32,000 1998/2000
Osborne Osborne Cogen P/L (Origin Energy and Canadian Utilities) Gas Cogeneration


243,000 1998
 OPERATING       105     
Angaston Infratil Ltd Other Reciprocating Engine


Moomba Santos Gas Gas Turbine


Lonsdale Infratil Ltd Other Reciprocating Engine





Quarantine Origin Energy Gas Gas Turbine


  2001 & 2008
Hallett AGL Gas Gas Turbine



Dry Creek Synergen Power Pty Ltd (100% Australian National Power owned 100% by International Power plc) Gas Gas Turbine



Mintaro Synergen Power Pty Ltd (100% Australian National Power owned 100% by International Power plc) Gas Gas Turbine



Ladbroke Grove Origin Energy Gas Gas Turbine





So SA’s fossil fuel generation is 78% for baseload. The three largest emitters (Northern, Playford and Torrens Island) contribute 7 million of the 9 million tCO2-e of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. This drives home an important message for me. Politically and socially we have a challenge. Technically though, decarbonising SA is not that hard. Three decisive infrastructure commitments and the job on electricity is nearly 80% done.

The big hitter in capacity terms is clearly Torrens Island A and B. Commissioned in the late ‘60s, at 1,280 MW they provide just over 1/3 the State’s fossil fuel generating capacity. Does Torrens Island need replacing though? You betcha. It’s over 40 years old for a start. It’s a modified oil generation plant. It’s open cycle gas steam turbine, running at about 33%-36% efficiency (which is poor).

How would we go politically and socially though? Torrens Island A and B live adjacent to Adelaide’s northern beach suburbs of Outer Harbour, North Haven and Taperoo. These areas are very much suburbia, albeit a traditionally industrialised area, abutting the Port of Adelaide. Being a pragmatist, the “common sense” option of using the same site may prove socially impossible because of the prevailing fear of nuclear. Perhaps placing it a little further from the coast will also be demanded in light of tsumami risk. I realise the Gulf of St Vincent is a calm bit of water, with incoming swell blocked by Kangaroo Island. Furthermore, Torrens Island itself is actually in Barker Inlet, with the aforementioned suburbs lying between it and the Gulf. But for now let’s suggest that a new site will be required, close to the coast for cooling, with a bit of a buffer for storm surge and tsunami, and close to transmission to minimise ancillary costs.

I suspect we would venture further north along the coast from Adelaide. There is a long stretch of essentially uninhabited terrain between the north of Adelaide and the small township of Pt Wakefield at the head of the gulf that would fit these basic requirements. There is bound to be environmental sensitivity around there, mangrove swamps for example. But I would be getting ahead of myself to look too closely right now. Suffice to say a new site should be easy to find but as we know, hard to implement.

Also, Torrens Island is a big plant. Starting big with nuclear would be politically tough. So, in summary, Torrens A and B: desperately needs replacement, would make a huge dent in our pollution if we did, but probably needs a new site and politically tough to be first off the rank. But we cannot let it be upgraded to another fossil fuel plant. If we do, we lose. Off the top of my head, going with a Generation III+ AP1100 reactor would be a near perfect fit. There will be lots of AP reactors operating in China by the time we get around to it, they will be tried and tested with good certainty in costs. Let’s use another post to work out whether that is the right reactor to replace these dinosaurs and do some costing in case we need the plan in a hurry. A basic schematic of the plant is shown below.

Moving on, let’s look at Thomas Playford B. It’s old, and it’s running out of coal from the Leigh Creek Coal Mine that supplies it (which is 280 km away from the power plant). It’s a long way north of Adelaide but close to the town of Pt Augusta. Everyone with any inside running in SA knows it needs to close, but there is no plan for replacing it. CARMA tells me that it emits 1.77 million tCO2-e per year, with an emissions factor of 1,250g per kWh. That’s not good. South Australia’s grid average emission factor is 720g/kWh. This thing is seriously letting the side down.

So this is interesting. Needs to close, already has distance from Adelaide, smaller at 240MW. Is that too small for nuclear? No, it’s perfect for Small Modular Reactors. In fact, it’s a near perfect fit for two of the new Babcock and Wilcox mPower reactors, a really impressive Generation III+ design, shown in the image below inside the below ground containment. This looks promising. Costing the mPower will be a bit tricky because they are still finishing the design. We will need to start with some educated estimates.  

After Playford we should look at Northern. 585 MW, coal steam turbine, 26 years old. Relative youth may save it from the chopping block, but only while we get Playford sorted out, because it’s nearly as filthy at 1,150 gCO2-e /kWh. Again, let’s find the right reactors; given a buffer of time, might the replacement of Northern be our first Generation IV reactor?

Pelican Point is different. Only 10 years old, 478 MW of combined cycle gas. Nice to finally see some efficient technology in use. This one is relatively clean at 391 gCO2-e (391 too many, but you know what I’m saying). The South Australian EPA talks it up as “state of the art” and much cleaner than its mates. We can probably feel ok about letting this one run while we deal with the rest.  By the time we can win the argument to replace Pelican Point, I think we will definitely be looking at Generation IV technology.

Then we have four little guys, ranging from 180 MW at Osbourne, down to 50MW at Pt Lincoln. They look ripe for small modular reactors. The WWII era plant at Whyalla deserves some extra attention. It’s also filthy at over 1,200 gCO2-e /kWh, and makes a pretty big contribution to the state total with 700,000 tCO2-e per year. Whyalla is a steel mining town on the Eyre Peninsula. With a population that is accustomed to industry, might they be relatively open to a small modular reactor providing the energy needs for the town and industry? It would be a lot better for their health than a 1940’s coal plant, that’s for sure, and suddenly OneSteel would be making some very clean, green steel.

I think we can sum up this first effort. Electricity generation is clearly the right sector to focus on in decarbonising SA. Despite having over half Australia’s wind generation, SA’s emissions from stationary energy have grown, so clearly something else is required in the form of nuclear power. The big win in capacity terms is Torrens Island, but that will be socially and politically challenging. Playford, Northern and Whyalla are all as dirty as hell and old, and of a size that is suited to Small Modular Reactors. Playford in particular is running out of resource, and everyone knows it needs to close. I think this process has identified a spearhead for the Decarbonise SA Energy Plan: winning a political commitment to replace Playford with Small Modular Reactors, to be followed by Whyalla and Northern. Success there should build the confidence and momentum required to remove Torrens Island from service in place of a larger reactor like an AP1100, or a suite of modular reactors. That will be the job nearly 80% done.

I like it. Let me know what you think. Unless I am persuaded otherwise, I nominate winning a commitment to replace Playford as the object of Decarbonise SA’s focussed attention through the Decarbonise SA Energy Plan.


  1. Ben, the driving logic of replacing like for like escapes me. So there’s one great big stinky gas plant, we’ll replace that with a great big commercial reactor, there are a couple of plants this size, we’ll replace them with another smaller reactor. Why? The only argument in favour of this approach to my mind is that the transmission equipment is already built. But isn’t most of the transmission equipment in need of upgrading, renewing, rebuilding anyway?

    So to my mind one site would be easier, where you could convince only one particular community, and put proven, commercially available technology in there, expanding with later and greater stuff as it becomes available.

    I am deeply sceptical of the costs of nuclear power, at least as built in the US and Europe. While China is reportedly building quality plants on time and on budget, regulatory impasses and our rottenly corrupt financial system don’t seem to allow that to happen in the global north these days. Accordingly, I would limit my ideas to one of two proven designs, being the AP600/1000 and Advanced CANDU.

    I wouldn’t believe anything about the costs of that B&W plug ‘n play reactor until at least ten had been fully commissioned.

    So given that, I would think that one site with 2 big reactors (1GW), expanding later to 4 or more (electric cars FTW! carbon neutral desal water!) is the way to go.

  2. Do the smaller power plants (eg. Playford B, Osborne) need to be replaced, or can they be decommissioned altogether, and their contribution be taken up by replacing other power plants with upgraded generation? For the purpose of the design exercise I’d like to avoid the SMRs and plan to do this with reactors available today.

    Lets see:

    Torrens 1280
    Northern 540
    Playford B 240
    Snuggery 103
    Whyalla 98
    Port Lincoln 50
    Osborne 180
    Angaston 50
    Moomba 35
    Lonsdale 20

    Thats a total of 2600 MW of baseload and operating plant (excluding Pelican Point for now). Unless there particular reasons for local generation for some of these plants, this load could be nicely served by, say, three AP1000s, or four CANDU 6E (700 MW) reactors, or a combination of the two reactors. Both reactor sets are capable of the load following of the existing aggregation of baseload and operating plant.

    Some nice features of the CANDU reactor:

    – Smaller capacity a better fit to grid
    – No large pressure vessel required
    – Most components could be manufactured in SA
    – Fuel assemblies are simple fabrications and could also be built in SA
    – Can run on natural uranium, so could also use domestic fuel, without enrichment.
    – Can also use spent fuel from light water reactors, so is synergistic with, say, the AP1000
    – Individual fuel bundles can be removed and replaced under power. The reactor does not need to be shut down for refuelling.

    Canada has completed 8 new CANDU reactor installations over the last twenty years all on time in 4 years and on budget at $2B/GW – the cheapest reactor available outside China. About $6B should do it for SA, with a lot of that spent in state, and we can get an easy start on the domestic fuel cycle infrastructure.

    Great post, Ben.

  3. I’ve only had a chance for a quick read tonight. My first impression is that Playford certainly does seem an obvious choice. Another inspiring post! I’ll have a more focused read tomorrow.


    Why do you think an SMR will be the easiest sell politically?

    Technically, SA’s baseload could be addressed with three power stations – right?
    Three AP1000s and your baseload is completely decorbonised. That’s amazing.
    I’ve got to say, for someone who’s been worn down, and disheartened by all these years of piece-meal wind farms, bitsy solar schemes, angsty energy consevation and demand management this or that, all to the tune of ever rising emissions, a three-power-stations-and-your-done option, sounds magic.

  4. As usual, I fluff around on a comment and then forget to refresh before I post. Now I find it’s all already been said, and in clearer terms than my addled brain can muster at this time of night. Sorry.

  5. Ben, another issue that you will have to address at some stage is agency. Who owns South Australia’s stationary energy supplies and how can they be kicked out (nicely)? Looking at the above, I’m assuming the situation is quite like Victoria, with individual plants owned by separate companies, a separate distribution monopoly (which feeds into the national grid) and retailers.

    So what incentives can be given to Babcock and Brown (who are now in fact called Alinta Energy I believe) to shut down their ancient, decrepit assets (Northern and Playford)? Simply a carbon price, and price them out of the market? At which point you have to ask is the SA government a shareholder in new nuke plants or a facilitator, a regulator, an underwriter? What’s fair to Alinta’s shareholders? Playford apparently had a “mid-life” refit in only 2005.

    (by the way, as an aside, do you remember Ben Plowman, the GHD geo/hydro whatsit engineer? Now working at Leigh Creek)

  6. As a geophysicist, I cannot conceive of any mechanism that would cause a significant tsunami in the Gulf of St Vincent short of a bolide impact offshore, certainly none that would be more likely than that. The tectonic environment off southern Australia is much more stable than that off Japan (no subduction zones), and Kangaroo Island affords further protection still.

    An issue that might be raised with a nuclear power plant on either gulf (apart from the usual radiation-related red herrings) is the effect of heat pollution on their shallow, semi-enclosed waters. However, I’m sure this is soluble (plenty of flat space for cooling ponds as well as towers).

  7. Mark, while heat pollution would be an issue, I can’t see why that is any different to the issue currently generated by Torrens island. I mean, the technology at that end of the system is identical.

    In Victoria there’s a peaking gas station in the middle of the city. The cooling water is drawn from the Yarra. This leads to a fishing spot that’s very popular called the warmies.

    Regardign Tsunamis, yes it would basically take a meteorite to create a big wave. The last time there was a MM9.0 earthquake on the Australian plate was…. ten thousand years ago? a hundred thousand years ago? millions of years ago? And lets not forget that Fukushima was a Gen 2 plant that was essentially obsolete, 1960s technology.

  8. Wow! This is great, keep it coming people! All comments are being noted, and a part two to this post is forming in my head.

    Just quickly, there are questions over my apparent preference for SMR. I’ll go into it in more detail in part two, but in brief I am thinking about minimising political risk and cost to at least get the ball rolling with nuclear in SA. I don’t want to see it fail by over stretching too soon. Also, the beauty of Playford is that the mine is running out of coal. They HAVE to replace it. I am inclined to think nuclear will start more successfully with a succinct replacement rather than a statewide reconfiguration. That said, the feedback is great and has me thinking. So keep it coming!

  9. But I’m inclined to think that, at least until they’re in the ground, ticketed by the NRC and fully costed, that SMRs will remain off in the never never. While we could get new CANDUs from China and Canada built to a fixed price (check this out BTW: http://canteach.candu.org/library/20031701.pdf ). $2 bn for 1.4 GW for two cores in 4.5 years, from first pour to criticality!

    A separate matter, one that maybe goes against the focus of the blog, is that if SA were to overbuild, say to put in 6 GW, well that would have a bigger impact on emissions reductions than anything else, because it would allow Hazelwood etc to shut down as well (assuming the interconnectors are big enough), and would make SA relatively wealthy compared to Vic – lots of jobs are based in Vic due to cheap elecricity. You could smelt aluminium!

  10. These are good points wilful. As for overbuild, we need to decarbonise transport too…

    Aluminum smelting! Yay! You take our Grand Prix, we take your smelter. Sounds fair.

  11. I’m with wilful on the SMR’s. While I’m excited for their prospects, and grant that they will certainly become available, I would be conservative and not place anything on the plan of record that is not available for order today. An SMR component will invite legitimate criticism over the use of non-existent technology. Thats just FUD you don’t need.

    Marion, I think you’ve raised an interesting and important point – there must be weariness out there with the failure to date to achieve any meaningful emissions reductions while the earth keeps getting warmer and the storms and heat waves keep coming. I’m sick of half-measures and greenwash, and I guess a lot of other people must be too. This is perhaps an important point of empathy to appeal to when communicating this plan.

  12. To be fair:
    – wind generation only began being installed in South Australia in 2003 (i.e. it’s been present in less than half of the period you graph above)
    – growth of wind farms have been constrained by the design of the MRET / RET
    – in six years, wind generation grew to the point where in 2009 it generated 17% of South Australia’s electricity.

    That doesn’t look like a failure to me. But it’s clear that wind alone (without viable large scale energy storage) cannot power an entire grid.

    1. That’s important . If you could help me I have tried to find the figure for SA emissions from electricity generation only in 2003 to see the impact. I can get a figure for stationary energy overall from the National Greenhouse Accounts site but that’s no good. Hopefully the 2003 figure will be higher than 9.1 million tCO2-e so that we can see some positive impact from the 1,000 MW of wind installed since then. Do you have it/ can you find it?

      1. Ben, this page http://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/WindSA.html states that “In 2009 South Australia generated 17% of its power from the wind and from 2007 to 2009 SA reduced its greenhouse gas production from electricity generation by 13% because of wind farms.” It quotes its sources.

        The ESIPC graph “Percentage of SA Energy Contribution by Fuel Source” on that page is interesting too. It shows that from 2001-2009 the percentage of electricity generated from coal and gas remained about the same, the percentage of electricity generated from wind farms increased significantly, and the percentage of energy imported from interstate dropped dramatically in the last few years.

        My understanding from this graph and from other reading is that wind farms have ‘absorbed’ the electricity growth on our South Australian grid, and have recently virtually eliminated the need for imports, which are primarily from brown coal generators in Victoria.

        That sounds like a positive impact to me.

  13. That doesn’t look like a failure to me. But it’s clear that wind alone (without viable large scale energy storage) cannot power an entire grid.

    And to reiterate what Ben has said previously several times, nobody, absolutely nobody here is against viable renewable power, and wind will be in the mix, hopefully with some CST, tidal and geothermal as well.

    (disclaimer: I own shares in wind and geothermal companies and have PV on my roof. I don’t have any BHP, Rio or other uranium miner shares)

  14. Thanks John, just so. I do get the sense that people are becoming increasingly frustrated with our non-progress on the emissions front. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure most don’t realise that the reason we are extending the lives of dirty old coal plants is because our current renewable resources, basically wind, solar and their essential storage requirements, are unable (or unavailable) to stand in as reliable, baseload, replacements. I think there are a lot of people out there who believe it’s simply a lack of gumption on the governments part. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard perplexed people ask why the government doesn’t just “cover every roof in solar panels, whack in some serious wind farms and close XYZ coal plant/s?” The most frustrating part of this for me is that no-one who has the reach to explain to the general public (ie. politicians, journalists) the deficiencies in this plan, has either the understanding or the honesty to do so. Don’t they realise all this dithering is costing them votes?

    John and wilful’s comments regarding the technical, and thus political, feasibility of an SMR are not encouraging. I think I need to better understand the reasoning and research behind your proposal and so I’m really looking forward to part two of this post.

  15. And to reiterate what Ben has said previously several times, nobody, absolutely nobody here is against viable renewable power, and wind will be in the mix, hopefully with some CST, tidal and geothermal as well.

    I second that, and add energy conservation in some practical and beneficial areas (ie better housing codes). It can only bring the goals closer.

  16. Ben
    Electricity generation in SA was responsible for about 9 million tCO2-e in 2009, roughly one third the total, and up from 6.5 million tCO2-e in 1990.
    That’s an increase of 38% or 2% a year.
    What you have not considered is that SA consumption of electricity increased by 53% from 1989/1990-2006/07, or 3% a year.

    Two reasons are the operatrion of Pelican point( a much more efficient combined cycle NG ) contributing up to 478MW (0.45tCO2/MWh) or generating 617,000/.45=1,400GWh / year and 1000MW of wind(CF0.33) generating 330x8760MWh=2,890GWh/year. Since SA consumers about 13,000GWh/year it appears that the low CO2 /MWh(0.69tCO2/MWh) in spite of the very high emitting old FF power stations is due mainly to the high proportion of wind power(20%).
    But clearly, wind alone is a failed strategy for decarbonisation.
    It seems that wind has actually saved 2.4 million tCO2/year because without wind the average generation would be 0.82tCO2/MWh(9million tCo2/11,000GWh).

    1. Yep, and I will be going back and editing this section to incorporate some of that information and also some provided by Andrew Dickson about the positive contribution wind has made. Bottom line though is that when the goal is to cut emissions, and emissions have gone up over a period of 20 years despite installing over 1,000 MW of wind, then wind alone (emphasis on the word “alone”) is a failed strategy. Nothing controversial about it. If we can’t face that fact, then we will continue with feel-good policy interventions that are incapable of meeting the scale of the challenge, which you rightly point out includes a continued growth in overall demand for energy.

      Ben Heard Director

      ben.heard@thinkclimateconsulting.com.au M- 0411 808 202 W- http://www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au

  17. Ben,
    You have made an error is quoting figures from the Carma web site.
    INTENSITY is LBS of CO2/kWh, so need to correct the text, so Playford would be 1.25 Tonnes CO2/MWh( or 1250g/kWh).
    Can calculate that Playford, Northern are only operating at CF 0.65 and Torrens and Pelican Pt at CF 0.38-0.4.

    1. Hi Neil,

      Please now note changes in the figures, and a note in the article cautioning about this on the CARMA site and explaining that it caught me out. You will also note a more thorough description of the positive impact wind power has had on South Australian generation, taking into account comments from yourself and Andrew Dickson.

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