This week we have learned that Petratherm, one of Australia’s most prominent and longstanding players in the exploration and development of hot dry rocks (HDR) geothermal power will now become a developer of gas i.e. another fossil fuel vendor.
Many commentators, myself included, have urged caution against the seemingly breathless enthusiasm that follows the geothermal story like some kind of puppy, with little, often begrudging moderation to account for the technical realities. In 2011 I wrote:
It’s time to face facts. We have tricked ourselves into having expectations of technologies like wind, solar and geothermal that far exceed their capacity to deliver. We can’t go on ignoring the fact that there is gross mismatch of timing between the current urgency of the climate crisis and the likely future ability of these technologies to deliver on our energy needs, cost effectively and at scale. That’s nobody’s fault. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not lack of funding, research or support. It’s the challenge of taking energy that is dispersed, dilute, intermittent and location-specific and then capturing, storing, moving and dispatching it to where we need it, when we need it. It’s bloody hard, and so far we are not that good at it.
This is not a minor issue. In 2013 AEMOs draft findings for their 100% renewables study geothermal is assumed to play a major, not minor role in delivering the stable and reliable baseload supply of 2030 (17 years away) and 2050. But cautionary words are commonly met with responses that suggest I and others are just haters when it comes to renewables, who simply want for vision.
Let’s hope that more attention is paid both to the decision of Petratherm, and the rhetoric that accompanies it.
Mr Kallis said gas could offer the consistency of supply that his company’s other projects could not, and would complement the company’s attempts to commercialise multiple forms of renewable energy.
In other words, there comes a point where private organisations need to make money, and they will happily turn to fossil fuels to do so. That point normally arrives when the public tap gets turned off.
”Gas acts as a catalyst or an enabler because it gets rid of the intermittency between things like solar and wind and it gives us time to provide a firm product to a customer”
In other words, intermittency is a challenge, baseload is not a myth, and geothermal is not ready to play the baseload role.
”A lot of people need to see that gas, which is the cleanest in terms of CO2 of any of the fossil fuels, is actually an enabler for renewables … It really is the transition fuel.”
Did everyone take that in? Fossil fuels are now enablers of renewables. This is coming from a Managing Director who is now investing in fossil fuels, not renewables. On that basis I think we can fairly infer that renewables can be enablers of fossil fuels every bit as much, and that any old green argument to satisfy investors will do.
As I emphatically argue in this video, at this time these vast renewables visions are gas visions. We may all just live in denial of that for a little longer, pretending that geothermal or biomass are going to miraculously overcome their major shortcomings. We can hope, but there is something else I have said before: hope is not a plan.