Tucker Perkins, head of the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), talks about the energy transformation we are currently experiencing with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny. Tucker advocates for renewable propane and for other sustainable liquid fuels in the future energy mix. The conversation also touches on the potential role of nuclear energy in achieving net zero emissions. Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at email@example.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.
Tucker is the president and chief executive officer of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), and his vision for the future is best explained by his own podcast’s title: “Path to Zero.” A firm believer that climate change is real and man-made,Tucker advocates for all energy solutions that will create a cleaner and healthier environment today and into the future.
Zero emissions is a goal we can all get behind,but how do we meet the world’s growing energy demands AND reduce carbon in the atmosphere? Tucker believes the best and most realistic wayforward is a wide path that incorporates renewables and clean liquid fuels, such as propane, to accelerate decarbonization and reach our climate goals as soon as possible.
Tucker’s insights and theories are backed by his 30+ years of work in the propane industry. He operated his own propane retail company, Premier Propane, and has held executive positions at Columbia Propane, CleanFuel USA and Inergy Propane. Tucker is active with many industry organizations, including the National Propane Gas Association, World LP Gas Association, Industrial TruckAssociation and Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.
What’s covered in EP206
[00:05:43] Energy transformation and low carbon fuels.
[00:09:24] Propane-powered trucks and environmental impact.
Transcript: Exploring the Energy Transformation: A Conversation with Tucker Perkins, Propane Education & Research Council – EP206
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:06
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. Hello, thanks for tuning in to the show. In this episode, I chat with Tucker Perkins about the energy transformation that we’re going through. Tucker is head of the Propane Education and Research Council perk, and he’s the host of the path to zero podcast. In our conversation, Tucker argues strongly for renewable propane, and for other sustainable liquid fuels being an important part of the energy mix in the future. According to perc, the most common form of renewable propane today is a byproduct of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel made primarily from plant and vegetable oils, animal fats or used cooking oil. Stay tuned to also hear Tucker’s thoughts on how the energy transformation is going, and whether we should consider nuclear energy in the transition to net zero. If you have any thoughts on what Tucker I have to say in this episode, then please let me know. You can email me via contact at economics explore.com. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Tucker Perkins. Tucker perkins, welcome to the programme.
Tucker Perkins 01:53
I’m going to enjoy being with you today. Thanks so much for having me.
Gene Tunny 01:57
Oh, of course, Tucker. Yes. Lots to talk about, given that your background and your position. So you’re the president and chief executive officer of the propane Education and Research Council P. C? Or is it perk, PRC or perk,
Tucker Perkins 02:17
we’ll call it perk for the rest of this talk. So
Gene Tunny 02:19
very good. Could you tell us a bit about your journey to perk, please Tucker? How did you end up becoming the president of what what what’s your you’ve got a background in the industry?
Tucker Perkins 02:32
Obviously, it’s you know, as I reflect on it backwards, you know, it’s been the culmination of kind of everything I did up to this point. But let’s start at the beginning. Like so many people that so in the US, we’ll call it propane, but the rest of the world and Australia included you gonna call it LPG, right. But you grew up in a into a household or my father ran a propane company that was a fairly good sized regional company. So I’d watch him go to work and saw what he did and seem to have a good living and enjoy his work. So always something I did in the summers as I was growing up, went off to college and was an engineer, and didn’t want to work for my dad at a college. I wanted to do something else. He was the president. And I didn’t really want to be the son of the President. So I worked I was a consulting engineer doing today. Now when I look back on is really relevant work, land use planning, water conservation. You’re really thinking about how urban areas should evolve walkable cities, livable places. And now it’s really to me forefront of so much we do is around conservation, right? Conservation of energy, conservation of water, how could we drive less, I mean, things that are really relevant. So I did that for a while but pretty quickly was recruited to go to work in the natural gas industry. He’s kind of a, an engineer on a pipeline, designing pipelines, building pipelines, operating them. We then built and operated in a liquefied natural gas facility, actually operated facility that turned butane or propane into natural gas. So really got great exposure in the natural gas business from drilling through the golf or Appalachian mountains, and to cleaning it up and then transporting and ultimately putting it on to ships if that’s what it took for LNG, so great, great support. But eventually, I wanted to do something I was a bit more entrepreneurial, and found my way back into the propane business, and ultimately worked my way to be the chief operating officer of the fourth largest propane company in the country. We then sold that and I started myself the smallest propane company in the country. Just me then me and a driver than me a driver and a service person. Then we added and I grew that business up and then we sold it in to a larger public company where I worked with them, so really ever had such great experiences in natural gas, natural gas liquids, you know, multinational work, you know, smallest company in the world. And ultimately, I went in and was a manufacturer for a while we were actually manufacturing propane systems. And at the conclusion of that, a job came up at the propane Education and Research Council to be in charge of all the business development. And I took that job, and then not long after that became CEO, oh, and not long after that became CEO. So it’s been a great, it’s just a great transition. And now really, just the last couple of years, you know, we’ve really started talking about how do low carbon fuels like natural gas and propane or LPG? How do they fit into this energy transformation that we talk about routinely? So having an engineering background being real familiar with natural gas, LNG, LPG really helpful to kind of set up for this last phase of my career?
Gene Tunny 06:11
Yeah, yeah, very good. Okay. So we’ll get on to that energy transformation in a moment, I’ll I should know that you’ve got your own podcast path to zero, which is great. So we’ll talk a bit about that later. Before we get on to that, I just like to ask a bit more about perk. This is an is IT industry funded Tucker it what’s the mission of the perk?
Tucker Perkins 06:35
Broadly, a perk is industry funded, we take a small percentage from every gallon sold in the US. So we have a very us focus. But again, the technologies we’re developing, we really encourage him to be used worldwide. I mean, it’s, it’s good for everyone. To see this technology is expanded way beyond the US. But we’re funded and our funding comes into about $50 million a year. And then we take that money and deploy it really one of three ways. First is around safety and training and safety and training for the industry. For the consumers of propane, we want to make sure that our industry and those people who touch propane, use propane, understand how to use it safely, that it’s installed safely in accordance with the codes. And we really, I’m so proud of where we have come over the last five or six years in digital training, helping helping you whether you want to work for a propane company and become a driver or service tech or even a customer representative. Or whether you’re filling cylinders at the local filling plant, or you’re a consumer and you need to know what to do when you smell the odour of gas. So safety and training, top of mind, a lot of marketing and awareness, you know, just talking about the value of propane, renewable propane as a part of the energy mix. And then the last piece of that really has been technology development to embed in the different markets agriculture, transportation, power generation, residential commercial, to embed into those markets, and see where the gaps are, and to see how LPG can fill those gaps. And it’s been amazing. I mean, I know I talked with you earlier. And, you know, 15 years ago as as a world body, we saw that ship fueling was dirty, filthy. In fact, it from a mission standpoint, inexpensive, powerful, but filthy. And we realised that propane offered a much better way to fuel his ship. today. We’ve had a monumental movement in using propane aboard ships, something that has been adopted way greater pace than I thought. But you know, we work with farmers every day about how to use propane today not only to dry green, or perhaps propel their tractor, but how to use it for flame techniques so they could become more gain. It can use less herbicides, pesticides, we work with builders, we’ve got some innovative products coming out that generate power and heat. And maybe our most exciting programme right now is with Cummins and a programme that I hope you see in Australia soon. Really the crazy powerful 6.7 litre propane purpose engine that can power medium duty trucks and do it in a way that’s probably more cost effective than any other option. And we cut greenhouse gases 25% from the next best technology on the market today. So you know, just actually literally putting our money where our mouth is and bringing innovative products to the marketplace that actually make consumers comfortable. Give them an affordable energy source yet do great things for the environment. Hmm,
Gene Tunny 10:06
right. Yeah. Okay, there’s few things I want to follow up there. First, just for, I just want to make sure I understand. So LPG or propane. Where would most people be coming into contact with that now? Would that be it when they’re doing they have that having a barbecue, they get the, the cylinder for their barbecue? Would that be one of the uses?
Tucker Perkins 10:28
Well, everyone comes into contact with it, they’re when they’re having their barbecues. Hopefully, we’ve all moved past charcoal now but So yeah, that’s where that’s where the typical consumer, but you know, a farmer touches it every day in December anyways, animal heat, green drying. We see it in in the US. We are fairly dominant in residential heating, hot water cooking, clothes drying, same for commercial segment. And then in transportation, and few people realise, but we’re really the third most widely used fuel in the world for transportation beyond diesel and gasoline. The next the next most widely use fuel is propane, or LPG.
Gene Tunny 11:14
Yeah, I know a lot of taxis here. have used it in Australia. So yeah, absolutely. Okay. And what about with, you’re talking about shipping? So what type of ships are we talking about? And what is it replacing? Is it replacing diesel? What’s what’s going on there?
Tucker Perkins 11:34
Yeah, well, or generally replacing even the next dirtier version of diesel first, so bunker fuel. So that heavy, that Heavy Diesel that ships used, where it will again, it was inexpensive, it’s powerful. But, you know, when you look at the emissions profile, intensely Laden was particulate matter, co2, NOx emissions, nothing that we really want to be spewing into the air, and rightfully the international community, you know, said we, there’s got to be a better way, we’ve got to fuel our ships, because again, here’s an area where ships use, you know, gargantuan volumes of fuel on an annual basis, right. So that’s an area where cleaning up the emissions truly makes a difference in our environmental footprint. So the other movie, these ships are moving from bunker fuel or diesel, to generally either natural gas, propane. You read some about ammonia, or methanol, or those kind of the, those are the four fuels that are in play right now for a ship of the future.
Gene Tunny 12:44
Right. So what types of ships are we talking about cargo ships, ocean liners, what about the oil tankers? What sort of sort of ships are we talking about? So most
Tucker Perkins 12:54
of our ships are currently carrying LPG. So those would be LPG carriers. And they could be vlg seas, very large gas carriers. But, you know, propane has moved so much around the world. And though that’s the first choice, because they already had their vessel full of propane, and so it’s relatively easy for them to to migrate to propane engines. But it certainly won’t stop there. We’re seeing some cargo ships there. I do think the probably the last in the line will be cruise ships. But we see some cruise ships now moving to liquefied natural gas. And so it’s only a matter of time. I think before all styles of ships. One style we really are interested in something very prominent in actually Australia would be ferries work boats, tugboats, fishing boats. If you go to Chile today, a lot of the fishing vessels in Chile are powered by LPG much cleaner, much easier to store for them, and much less expensive. And so for a fisherman, they actually could twofold right? They cut their costs and improve their emissions. So, you know, depends on a little bit where you go in the world to see how it’s being used. But it’s so versatile. It’s highly used in engines,
Gene Tunny 14:17
Rod, okay, and so how does it compare? What’s the right terminology pound for pound or I’m just trying to think so You mentioned a 6.7 litre propane engine for the for trucks. If I fill up the truck, will I get a similar range? If I’ve compared with if I build it with diesel? Do I get the similar amount of power? How does it compare?
Tucker Perkins 14:42
So the energy content of a gallon of propane is about I don’t know three quarters of the energy content of a gallon of diesel. Right but fuel managers tend to think about things in terms of cost per mile. Yeah, or opera. Reading cost per mile. And it’s shocking to me where we are, we’ve always been cheaper than. But now we are significantly cheaper than in fact, in most in most. And I probably have looked at 100 or 200. Operating statistics over the last month or two, we’re always half of the cost of diesel or more, in a diesel right now has been fairly elevated in price, propane has been fairly depressed in price. So it’s not unusual for us to see 60 70% savings in a cost per mile, moving from diesel to propane. And that’s really, you know, that’s important in a medium duty truck. Right, medium duty trucks are our breadbasket. They’re delivering goods and services to us, and to be able to cut their costs by 60, or 70%. While we cut their emissions, while we quiet the engine, it’s monumental benefit to the driver, to every community they serve, and ultimately to the people who are paying for those goods and services they deliver. So massive benefit.
Gene Tunny 16:08
Yeah, is there any difference in the frequency at which you have to fill
Tucker Perkins 16:11
up now, you as a designer of those engines, we, we almost always make sure that we have the same range. So your diesel truck had 600 miles of range, then we make sure you have 600 miles of range, you know, we found is this conversation goes around electric vehicles and, you know, we, we really highlight, you know, that you probably have to change to drive an electric vehicle, certainly a medium duty electric truck, you’re going to change something you’re gonna it takes you longer to refuel, you won’t be able to go as far, you know, we just don’t find commercial businesses are really able to do that they need, they need to demonstrate significantly better than before they’ll leave diesel or gasoline. And I think with propane, we demonstrate significantly better than cheaper, more powerful, frankly, quieter, and much better emissions.
Gene Tunny 17:08
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 17:43
Now back to the show. Right Oh, so you mentioned before about the role of gas, so propane and other and other gases in this transition in the energy transformation. So as we head toward Net Zero, how do you see that broadly Tucker? What’s the what’s the role? Is it just as transition field as we move toward more lower carbon sources? Is there a permanent role for gas? How do you see that their role in that energy transformation?
Tucker Perkins 18:21
You know, probably I probably answered your question, in a funny way. Because when we started, certainly we thought this, that gas would be a transition. But as as we really studied, where we believe hydrogen goes, maybe we’re wind and solar goes. And wind and solar are going to be completely captivated by how fast we get the battery storage and energy storage, right? We we really cannot have appropriate wind and solar without being able to store that intermittent supply that really relevant relates as well to Evie vehicles, right? It really gets to about can we make a light enough battery that charges fast enough that holds that energy that lets us have four or 500 miles of range? How long does it take for the engineers to come to those answers? And by the way, as a technologist, I certainly believe we come to those answers, right. But I think what’s interesting to me, as we really think, again, I keep the goal in mind. The goal in mind is to reduce carbon. And we can fool ourselves by saying I drive a zero emission vehicle. But the only time that vehicle is truly a zero emission is when it’s at rest, right? The minute we have to charge it and we have to really think about that system. What I’m excited this A is as we really studied both renewable natural gas and renewable propane. We find that even under the most optimistic scenarios that we can craft for electricity, there will always be a benefit to using a powerful liquid Fuel, like renewable propane or renewable propane blend in an efficient engine. And perhaps gene engine might be a hybrid engine me, that vehicle may be the best of electric drive and internal combustion drive. But I really pivoted my answer to say, No, I think there will always be a place for low carbon and renewable fuels. And the last piece is about this is economics, because we don’t really want to, you know, openly address the cost of this transition. But in the US, we talk openly about 3 trillion, I’ve talked openly on a worldwide basis that it probably looks to me more like 30 or $40 trillion. And a few outside banking agencies have kind of verified that number. Now. That’s a lot of money. And we have to think about, I think often about, are we deploying those dollars in the right place and a world where we need better medicine, better schools, better highways and bridges? can we really afford to spend that kind of money when we have some of these clean solutions right in front of us. And that’s a conversation that we’re going to have a lot of over the next decade. But I would say to you, I am perfectly comfortable. That to choose propane today or choose natural gas today, knowing that it was a 25 or 30 year solution. I can really be intellectually honest, it says that fuel can still be cleaner than any other choice of energy I have. Because we’re we’re migrating not only our conventional fuels cleaner, but our renewable blends are carbon zero or less. And so for example, I’m perfectly comfortable talking about carbon zero propane, perfectly comfortable.
Gene Tunny 21:48
Okay, how does it become carbon zero? Tucker, I have to ask you about that. Because when you hear that you think Hang on, how is that? It’s propane. It’s so hydrocarbon how on earth? Can it be zero? Kava? What’s going on there?
Tucker Perkins 22:03
Yeah, I agree. And actually, as a person who I think we’re all better to be naturally sceptical, you know. And so the first time I talked about some modern fuels that had a carbon intensity of minus 273, I’m like, How can that be. But let’s use one example that where we think renewable propane, some sources could have a carbon intensity of minus 300, minus 300. And that would be you know, we’re working on ways to take methane today that escapes into the air. Think about gas drilling, or well drilling, where you just have fairly large amounts of methane that are just skate escaping into the air, because they can’t deal with it any other way, to be able to capture that escaping methane and convert it into a usable product. The scientists have really said consistently, I should give you credit for that, without your innovation, that methane would have escaped in the air. So I’m going to give you credit for now capturing that methane, and doing something with it. And if we can do that something converted into renewable propane efficiently, you know, don’t use a lot of energy, don’t use a lot of land, then the way we would score that today is minus 300. The renewable propane we’re making today, some of the agricultural styles, they they score today is as seven. And I’m, I’m comfortable that by using some renewable power, and by being more efficient in the process, that will end up being carbon zero as well.
Gene Tunny 23:37
Right? So it’s renewable because you’re taking methane that’s otherwise going into the atmosphere. And you’re using renewable energy to extract the propane from that is, is that right? Right.
Tucker Perkins 23:53
So again, I mean, just even go up a level a little broader. We’re taking waste products, and converting them as efficiently as possible. And by the way, all inputs considered, there’s no, you know, there’s no black box where he just stick it over there and say, No, we don’t count once in that black box, everything’s considered. In fact, even as we think about moving these grains from where they are grown and harvested to where we convert them to propane, we have to figure the carbon intensity of that train, then move those grains, but we take waste products, essentially, and effectively convert them to energy, and we calculate all the inputs. And so you know, a good example, we’re growing a product that would be very applicable in Australia camelina plant, we grow it on fallow land, we don’t irrigate it. We don’t put a lot of nitrogen on the soil, and we very efficiently converts to energy. So that’s right now the government here’s corps that has a carbon intensity of six And, and I believe by the time we perfect the process will be zero. That’s that’s how you get to those numbers, rock.
Gene Tunny 25:06
And so where are we with renewable propane? Are we in? Are we still in the r&d or the demonstration or commercialization phase of it.
Tucker Perkins 25:15
So interesting that, you know, we’re making it today in the US we’re making it today we’re selling it today, it is eligible for a lot of the same credits that you get from us from buying renewable diesel or sustainable aviation fuel. And, you know, I’m proud to say I think we’re really, we’ve probably seen the market grow seven fold or eight fold in the last year. And that’s just really all around the activity from making renewable diesel or sustainable aviation fuel. Those other things, I’m talking about agricultural based versions from camelina plan or some other really interesting, a non food cover crops, capturing methane that we’ve talked about early, those are now moving, you know, out of the lab, past the pilot plants and into real production. So if you and I had this conversation a year ago, I would have talked to you about renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel making renewable Propane is a part of that. That’s, that was where the conversation ended. Today, I probably have 13 or 14 other pathways that all have, you know, really strong commercial potential. Yeah. And there are a few really exciting possibilities into the lab that are being heavily funded. So we’re excited about the fact that there’s a lot of waste material. And a lot that easily converts think about agricultural waste, whether it’s animal waste, something, you know, you, you certainly have your share that, you know, in Australia that today has been how we make a lot of renewable natural gas, right, but forest waste, how easily can we convert that, and I’m convinced Gene, that it will be converted to some renewable energy, it won’t all be converted to renewable propane, renewable natural gas, some of it will turn into ethanol and methanol. And I’m a huge advocate of allowing the feedstock that most easily converts into a product. That’s how it should happen. And then we need to find uses. methanol, ethanol, natural gas, propane, renewable diesel sustainable jet. You know, it all has a need in our society.
Gene Tunny 27:31
Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. Can I ask about the renewable dude, so I’m clear, where does the renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel come from? How do we make that?
Tucker Perkins 27:41
So today, we make it almost exclusively from used cooking oils, vegetable oils, you know, we could we could make it from a variety of crops, soybean oil, palm oil, something that you know, really is, we don’t we don’t talk about we don’t use it just it’s not really fashionable to talk about palm oil. So today, it’s basically soy beans, and a lot of used cooking oil, that’s really been the primary feedstock for
Gene Tunny 28:12
just on palm oil, you mentioned is not fashionable. Is that because of concerns about the environmental impact? Absolutely. Yes. Gotcha. Yeah. Yeah, it’s a big issue in Indonesia, of
Tucker Perkins 28:24
just, you know, from just from an environmental standpoint, and not really good ability to control the source and to be, it’s to me, it’s a little bit like lithium, right? Or cobalt? Yeah. If we’re really honest, about how we source cobalt today, we have a long ways to go to think about responsibly sourcing these materials. And again, at some point, we’re doing all this to improve the planet to improve our health to improve the quality of life for all in concerned. Right. And I don’t know how you turn your back on, you know, the miners of cobalt in the Congo, right? I mean, we have certainly not improved their lives, in many respects and the things the same probably draws out the palm oil.
Gene Tunny 29:09
Yeah, gotcha. Okay. So, as we wrap up, Tucker, how do you what are your thoughts on how the transition is going? I mean, there’s a lot of talk about the need to get toward Net Zero, obviously, how do you see the energy transformation going in the US? So I’ve covered it in Australia quite a bit on the show. I’m just interested. How do you think it’s going in the states there?
Tucker Perkins 29:33
Well, first off, I compliment you and calling it a transformation and not a transition. Right? You know, that’s a hot button to me, because it’s not a transition transitions are smooth and easy. And you hardly know when you transition. And in the transformation, people fall and stumble and hit their head and some people, you know, thrive and other people lose and that’s exactly what we’re gonna do here. So, I love the fact that you call it a transformation because it is, you know, we’re on the one year anniversary of our inflation Reduction Act, which is really that first massive influx of money in, you know, I said an interview earlier this week, we can see how much money we’ve spent. But it is quite hard to see any benefits we’ve reaped. Now, in fairness, one year is a very short time duration to be measuring results. But I think it’s pretty clear to say that we’re not seeing benefits. And I think that’s one of the areas that we love to talk about, is we’re stepping over easy short term wins to benefit the environment. In this quest for this magical electric grid that could appear, or this magical use of hydrogen, in a new Australia’s light years, I feel like ahead of most in both those areas, frankly. But you know, we’re really a long way from having a hydrogen economy, we’re a long ways from having a true, resilient, affordable electric grid that just produced from solar and wind. And so I’m loving the fact that the focus is coming in on how to how to get to a cleaner climate. And I feel like wherever you go, responsible scientists and engineers are working towards a common goal. I would say in the US, I find often that fossil fuels aren’t equal, right? It’s, it’s quite interesting to me that we talked about coal, oil and wood is dirty. And then we use a lot of coal, oil and wood to generate electricity, which is going to be the next solution. Right? So fossil fuels aren’t equal at all. And I think propane natural gas are two that have a long runway in it just transformation. And, but I love the technology that I’m seeing developed. And I’m loving seeing the market niches that we see propane can play. years ago, we really didn’t talk much about LPG in power generation. And now if I took you around the world, you’d be so shocked how we’re industrially powering facilities in Puerto Rico. We are, we’ve moved so far past residential backup. Now we’re into some prime power applications, residentially and commercially, just today I met with a college that’s going to choose propane for a significant portion of their energy system, because it offers them the best combination of environmental benefits and cost, reliability and resilience. So where we are clearly not even in warm up of you know, where we’re going to be. But I see now engineers, scientist, and really the financing community pulling together to get to a good spot.
Gene Tunny 32:56
Gotcha. Okay. And finally, what about pumped hydro and nuclear? I mean, there I mean, pumped. Hydro is something we’re pursuing here in Australia, nuclear, there’s talk about it, we probably won’t have it. There’s a lot of community resistance to it. But there are some people arguing very strongly for it. Do you have any thoughts on either of those Tucker,
Tucker Perkins 33:16
probably probably have strong thoughts. I don’t really think we ever get to where we want to be with the power grid, until we learn how to make nuclear power, until we learn really how to make it as safely as possible, and how to deal with the waste. But I really think nuclear is going to have to be a part of our solution. Because one, one thing is evident, we’re going to continue to use more and more power, right? Where we’re we want to use our computers, we want to use our data centres. Now. We want to use artificial intelligence. And nobody talks about how that in fact ratchets up our power demand exponentially, right? And yeah, you just don’t really get there without having a significant nuclear base. Now, maybe one day we’ll be talking about fusion. But I’m just not an adult. We don’t have that long to wait. We cannot wait any longer for the silver bullets. We got to take action now. Right. For it’s interesting to me that you’re talking about hydropower, because I want to be such a champion of hydroelectric power. I want to I want to be, but the realist in me knows we’re not going to build any more dams. We’re not going to dam up more rivers just not going to happen. And at least in the US, we haven’t seen even though the pumped power projects we have here are magnificent. I don’t see enough on the drawing board here to create a blip in the supply. And so for us, I find pump storage and pumped power. Something that’s not really even in the conversation right now. I’m glad you all are talking about it. Because as a way to store power and use power when you have a lot of it, and to store it for a time when you need more of it, it makes a lot of sense.
Gene Tunny 35:18
Yeah, we just hope it works out because we’re, we’re betting a lot on it, that we’ll get the pumped hydro to help back up the grid. But one of the projects we’ve got as a snowy 2.0, and it’s just way behind schedule, it’s going to be like five times the original cost. It’s delayed by 10 years. It’s it’s not going well at all.
Tucker Perkins 35:36
You know, we’re seeing that we’re seeing that right now in offshore wind, right. I mean, all the financial models that really were built around offshore wind, those financial models changed significantly, everything became more expensive. And really, right now the projects that are moving forward are the ones that just really felt like they had no choice but to move forward. But those are, again, things change, right? labour costs go up, material costs go up, maybe technology shifts, and gives you every once awhile, a favourable result. But, you know, I think that’s one of the things few people think about in this transformation as well, is just how dynamic everything is right? What’s the cost of power? How long are you willing to contract it? I was thinking today about just mining and thinking about, I just don’t know, Australia is certainly a huge mining centre, it’s a part of your culture, you have a lot of land, that is a part of your culture, no other way to say it, you embrace it to the extent you can, I just don’t think we’re going to embrace it and in the US, right, like you do in Australia. And so I think it has significant impact on our ability to really think about how we’re going to produce lithium, or copper. And so we have to really think about that, I think as a global basis, but we can talk in the US about how we’re going to become independent for lithium or copper. He I don’t believe it for a moment. And it’s not that I don’t want to believe it. But is that I’m well aware of, you know, not that many people want to lithium mine in their backyard, or in their neighbourhood or in their state sometimes.
Gene Tunny 37:20
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There’s some some big issues there, for sure. Okay, Tucker, any final thoughts before we close?
Tucker Perkins 37:29
No, I mean, I love the opportunity to have this conversation with you. I love the fact that we’re about as far apart geographically as you can be. But we share, we share the exact same desires right to get cut our carbon would be able to live our lifestyle afford, you know, our families a better lifestyle, then, you know, perhaps we had his children. And it is nice to have partners in that in that conversation. Because from this conversation, we’ll get to solutions. We will cut through the politics, we’ll cut through the rhetoric. And I think we’ll get to solutions that were
Gene Tunny 38:05
absolutely, Tucker, I think that’s a great note to end on. I agree with you about the need to be great to cut through the politics on these issues. And yeah, really appreciate all the great conversation and just learning so much about propane, and this renewable propane and how these renewable and sustainable fuels are created and getting your thoughts on their role in this energy transformation. I think I pinched that from you, Tucker, they were in our pre conversation you. You mentioned it is really a transformation rather than a transition. And I’ve chatted with other guests. And their thought too, is that the nature of it is it’s not going to be smooth. It’s it involves lumpy investments, there’s going to be disruptions at times. And yeah, we’re starting to see some of that. So yeah, Tucker, it’s been terrific really value, your perspective on this and your information. So thanks so much.
Tucker Perkins 39:05
I really appreciate you having me. I hope you have a great day.
Gene Tunny 39:08
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A conversation regarding the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, with Andrew Murdoch, the Managing Director of Arche Energy. Andrew shares his positive outlook and realistic insights into the challenges of integrating renewable energy into the electricity grid. He also advocates for being open to a range of options, including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at email@example.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.
Andrew Murdoch is the Founder and Managing Director of Arche Energy. Andrew has been operating in technical-commercial roles in the Queensland National Electricity Market (NEM) Zone since it was first founded over 20 years ago. In 2017, he founded Arche Energy to provide a high-quality clean energy, power and infrastructure consultancy to facilitate investment in the clean energy sector. He is an experienced general manager, project director and engineer operating in renewable power, power generation, energy, ports and heavy infrastructure. His experience spans business development activities, major approvals, project execution, operations and maintenance and decommissioning. Andrew is an innovator and optimiser thriving in changing environments through the adaptation and integration of emerging and innovative technologies into business applications.
Transcript: Australia’s Net Zero transition: successes & challenges w/ Andrew Murdoch, Arche Energy – EP202
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It was then checked over by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to pick up the mondegreens that otters sometimes leave in their wake. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:06
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.
Hello, thanks for tuning into the show. In this episode, I catch up with Andrew Murdoch to talk about the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions here in Australia. My occasional co-host, Tim Hughes took part in the conversation too. Andrew is the Managing Director of Arche Energy, which describes itself as a clean energy power and infrastructure advisory providing depth of experience to the investment community as it develops and executes clean energy power generation and infrastructure projects. It’s headquarters are in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, not far from my office. As you’ll hear, Andrew is generally positive about the transition to net zero. And he has that can-do attitude you’d expect from an engineer, but he’s also a realist. He gave us some great insights into the challenges associated with bringing large amounts of renewable energy into the system. And he made strong arguments for remaining open to a range of options such as nuclear power, and for persisting with r&d in carbon capture and storage, a so called clean coal technology. Okay, let’s get into it. I hope you enjoy our conversation with Andrew Murdoch.
Andrew Murdoch from Arche Energy, good to have you back on the programme.
Andrew Murdoch 01:59
Thanks Gene. Good to be here.
Gene Tunny 02:00
Excellent. Tim, thanks for joining us for this conversation, too.
Tim Hughes 02:04
You’re welcome. Good to be here.
Gene Tunny 02:05
Excellent. So Andrew, you got in touch after the conversation that Tim and I had recently with Sir David Hendry. And one of the things we talked with Sir David about was the transition to net zero. And we talked about what was happening in the UK and what he thought about nuclear energy as a possibility for Australia. And we talked about these small modular reactors. So you got in touch with us. And you’ve been on the show before. And you’ve mentioned that you have some thoughts on renewables on how we’re going with the transition to net zero on nuclear energy. So we’re keen to chat with you about that today. If you’re happy to do that.
Andrew Murdoch 02:44
Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Gene. Yes, happy, happy to do so. Yes, Sir David, raised some interesting points. And so I thought it would be good to expand on some of those a little bit.
Gene Tunny 02:52
Excellent. So to kick off with Andrew, could you tell us how do you think this transition to net zero is going here in Australia? And then we might chat about how it’s going overseas, please.
Andrew Murdoch 03:05
Yeah, look, I think in Australia to date, the transition is going going very well. There’s a lot of excellent projects that are that are happening, we’ve seen a significant increase in the share of renewable energy on the market, and a corresponding reduction in the intensity of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour generated. Each of the states have now got some some ambitious renewable energy targets that they are all working towards. And, you know, we’re starting to see statistics like 25% renewables penetration in states like Queensland and higher in other states as well.
Gene Tunny 03:42
Andrew Murdoch 03:45
25% for for financial year 2023, which is, which is fantastic.
Gene Tunny 03:48
So this is the percentage of the electricity generated in the state that is coming from renewable sources, such as solar, and hydro, and it includes the rooftop solar, as well as the big solar farms?
Andrew Murdoch 04:01
Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah. So it’s predominantly solar, wind and rooftop power.
Gene Tunny 04:05
Gotcha. Okay. So we’re at 25% or so here, but we’ve, they’ve got some pretty ambitious targets haven’t they for where they want to get to?
Andrew Murdoch 04:14
Correct yes. So for example, Queensland’s renewable energy target is 50% renewables by 2030. So that’s only another another seven years away. And then 80% renewable by 2035. New South Wales is targeting a 70% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2035 from 2005 levels. So they are really quite ambitious targets. And as renewable penetration increases, it gets harder and harder to manage, as we have to shift more power from times of high renewable generation such as the middle of the day when all of the solar farms are operating, more periods of high wind, collecting the surplus power storing it and shifting it to times when the wind is not blowing the sun’s not shining is is one of two significant challenges. The other significant challenge we have in terms of significantly increasing renewables penetration is in increasing the transmission infrastructure to be able to collect all of the energy that’s generated in the in the renewable energy zones or areas where the sun is strong and the wind and the wind blows and moving that into the load centres in the cities and industrial areas.
Gene Tunny 05:23
Okay, so what’s the issue at the moment, we don’t have the lines where they need to be.
Andrew Murdoch 05:28
Yeah, so the lines have historically connected the large baseload thermal power stations in places like the Bowen Basin and the Hunter Valley, and connected them to, to the load centres in the big cities and, and industrial areas. So because that’s where the energy is flowing, it’s flowing, it’s flowing from the areas where the coal is to where the where the load is, now it needs to now we need to get the energy from where the wind blows and the sunshine as to where the to where the load is. And that’s a lot more geographically dispersed. And, yes, there has always been transmission lines to a lot of these communities. But those transmission lines have been sized to suit the towns and communities in the area, rather than and of course, that load is much, much smaller than the hundreds and 1000s of megawatts that we want to be transmitting from those areas back into the cities.
Gene Tunny 06:20
Right. So what does that mean? We need bigger, more high capacity lines? I mean, how do we think about that? It’s more expensive then is it? There needs to be upgrades, it needs to be new lines?
Andrew Murdoch 06:30
Correct. Yeah. So so the renewable energy zones are all about connecting the high renewables areas to the load centres? And yes, physically, that means new lines, higher voltages, higher capacity transmission systems into those areas.
Gene Tunny 06:45
Right. And what are these renewable energy zones? Do you know roughly where they are?
Andrew Murdoch 06:50
Yes, so New South Wales has five renewable energy zones. They have the Central West Orana, they have New England, Hunter, Southwest, Queensland released its renewable energy zone roadmap. I won’t try and list all of them. There are quite a few, some of the areas that Queensland are progressing North Queensland, area around Biloela or west to Biloela there where there is already some some pretty good transmission systems, but it’s all about connecting, connecting local farms into the local wind farms and solar farms into the into the existing transmission system, Darling Downs, areas around McArthur wind farm, expanding those expanding those zones as well.
Gene Tunny 07:34
Great, okay. Right. You mentioned that as you get more renewables into the system, you have these issues of like, it’s going to be harder to go to the next stage. I mean, we’re at 25%. So you’re saying that it gets more difficult because then you’ve got more of your power from intermittent sources from the renewables, you don’t have as much from coal or from gas. So is what you’re saying have we got the low hanging fruit already? So the the rest of the fruit, they’re going to be more difficult to pick? Is there any rule as to when you have problems? I mean, we’re at 25% now, I mean, can we can we get up to 50%? Like, what does that entail? Is does that is that when we need the pumped hydro, do we need pumped hydro to get to 50%? How do we think about this?
Andrew Murdoch 08:22
You’re sure, so no, there’s not a there’s not a hard rule, things just get harder and harder. So okay, you know, using the low hanging fruit analogy, you need a bigger and bigger ladder as the as the fruit gets higher and higher. So the driver for pumped hydro or any storage is the volatility in the price. So the difference between the low price and the high price is what provides the economic incentive to put storage in. So the more the more generation that happens at the same time, whether it’s solar in the middle of the day, or wind, when the when the wind is blowing as a ratio against the peak demand. The greater that difference is, the greater the economic incentive is for run for the installation of batteries. From a energy supply perspective, from a security of supply perspective, it becomes a probability game. So you’ve got the probability of the sun shining, and the probability of the wind blowing in various different geographically dispersed regions around around the country on the network. And what’s the probability of any one meteor…, meteorological event impacting the energy supply to the point where we have to start turning power off? The more storage you have on the system? The more dispatchable generation you have whether it’s coal or gas, the lower that probability is the more concentrated your your, your renewable energy resources are meteorologically, if you have all of your solar farms in the one location, for example, and and you get you get rain in that location, well you you’re going to get no generation, whereas if you spread them out all over the country, well, you’ve got a greater chance of there being, of it being sunny in any one spot. And of course, if you spread them out in a line that runs east west, then you’re extending your generation day as well. So…
Gene Tunny 10:09
Yeah, yeah, Tim, do you have any questions for Andrew at this stage?
Tim Hughes 10:12
It is a sort of like more of an overview, sort of like question, I guess, when we look at 80% by 2035. Without obviously having a crystal ball, I mean, it’s there as a target, what are the chances of achieving it? And what does it look like to be able to be 80% reliant on renewable energy with those things that you mentioned that, you know, there are pitfalls with wind with solar, with having hydro, which I understand really acts as like a bit of a battery, so that it can have water pumped to the top during the day while there’s available power and then it can access that power in the evening. With 80%, in your view, is that achievable? Are we on track?
Andrew Murdoch 10:52
Yes. So Grattan did some excellent modelling about a year or so ago. And what they found that was that 90% was a was an achievable target from a market operations perspective. And their modelling was around reliability of supply versus time of day, and they found that 90% renewables penetration that was about the optimum. Now the final 10%, was was made up by gas, when it comes to the probability of being able to achieve it. Yeah, look, with enough pumped hydro, and with enough batteries, yes, you can do it. And certainly with the gas in the system to deal with those periods where the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow for for weeks on end, well, you can just just run gas for that 10% of the time. And if you’re 90%, carbon free and 10% carbon at gas intensities of roughly half that of coal, you know, that’s a pretty good outcome on average 24/7 basis. So in terms of carbon intensity,
Gene Tunny 11:49
So this is interesting, because, like you mentioned, oh, yeah, say it doesn’t you haven’t got the renewables for for a week or so. Like there could be prolonged periods where you don’t have the renewables or you’ve got very little from renewable. And therefore, if you’re saying, well, the gas is 10%. But then for those periods of time, the gas is going to have to be providing 50, 60 or 70%, isn’t it? So you might need that you need more gas capacity than you would in the current configuration. Is that is that one way of thinking? Is that right?
Andrew Murdoch 12:22
Correct. Yeah, and your gas becomes more of a standby generator. And so in that scenario, where you have very low levels of renewable generation, for a for a long period of time, and all of your batteries are flat, and all the hydro dams are empty, that’s when the gas has to has to kick in. And that raises a whole heap of questions around security of gas supply as well. When you are only providing gas for a short period of time, where do you store it? And yes, pipelines have have linepack capability. But that has to be commercial for the pipeline operator and for the provider of the gas in the first place, as well so…
Gene Tunny 13:04
Yeah, what’s that capability line?
Andrew Murdoch 13:06
Linepack. So linepack is gas that is stored in a gas pipeline, in a transmission pipeline. So we have transmission pipelines that criss cross the country, taking gas from gas fields into the into industrial and city centres, the pipes are typically somewhere between 300 and 600 millimetres in diameter. And they’re pressurised, the more the greater the pressure that that you run the pipelines in the more gas you can store in there. So it kind of acts as a big gas bottle, and a transmission pipeline at the same time. And so but that stored gas is what we call linepack.
Gene Tunny 13:37
Gotcha. Okay. Yeah.
Tim Hughes 13:40
I was gonna ask, actually, because one of the other things with this, with different sources of energy, how does the transition looks so for instance, like just to be able to switch from, from one source to another source to another source to then put gas in or hydro or whatever it’s going to be? Undoubtedly, we’re charting, you know, getting into unchartered waters a little bit, because this is the intention to try and make that work. How big a good problem is that likely to be, that flexibility that will be needed?
Andrew Murdoch 14:08
Well, yes. So this is the beauty of the market. So the market operation is such that the generators will each bid in the different technologies that they have at different price points, depending upon what their bidding strategy is, typically, you’ll bid in such that you you’ll bid in to generate whenever the spot price is greater than your short run marginal cost of operation, your cash costs. So then you’re then generating positive cash flow. The market and the transmission system doesn’t really care where the electrons are coming from, if they see, as soon as there is energy flowing through the system. It just flows through the system and the Australian energy market operator, AMO, they run a dispatch engine, where they collect bids from from all of the generators around the country and every five minutes. It will it will issue dispatch instructions to each of the generators to either output more power or output less power or maintain the same level depending upon what price they’ve bid into the system and, and what level of generation they’re physically able to provide at that point in time.
Gene Tunny 15:14
Okay, so, Andrew, in terms of how we compare with other countries, I remember maybe it was when we were chatting last time, but there are some countries that seem to have high renewable penetration, but it’s, it’s the countries with geothermal. Is that correct?
Andrew Murdoch 15:30
Well, it depends upon what natural resources you happen to have. So if you’re New Zealand, or Iceland, and you happen to have some excellent geothermal resources, and then great tap in tap into the side of the volcano that you happen to have, and grab some of that heat and turn it into power, so yeah, yeah. So that that works very well. If you happen to have a lot of hydro resources, if your a Nordic country for example, or or, again, New Zealand, or Tasmania, then then you know, if you’re blessed with that rainfall and you can harvest it, then, then then you have that option. Mainland Australia is a little bit more difficult. We don’t we don’t have the rainfall to support massive hydro schemes other than Snowy Hydro and Tasmania. So we are limited to solar and wind for the bulk of our, the bulk of our renewable, geothermal is an option, but our geothermal resources are very deep and not not high grade, so quite expensive to get that heat to the surface and turn it into power.
Gene Tunny 16:32
So can I ask you a question about hydro versus pumped hydro? Because you mentioned Norway. So does Norway have a lot of hydro? So is it able to generate a consistent or quite a regular amount of energy, from their hydro resources, they don’t have pumped hydro, they’ve got actual, they’ve got enough rain fall? Or that they’re capturing it? They’ve they’ve set up these hydroelectric dams in a way that it’d be good to have some understanding of that just is there a difference between normal hydro and pumped hydro? How does that work?
Andrew Murdoch 17:02
Yeah, so so the key difference between normal hydro and pumped hydro is for normal hydro, the rain or snow falls onto the top of the hill, or a plateau somewhere, collects somewhere into a reservoir or, or some other collection system up high in the mountains, then you run it through a set of penstocks into a turbine that might be several 100 metres, maybe, maybe further underground. And then it will discharge into the river system, several 100 metres below where it’s collected, as opposed to pumped hydro, where you are taking water from a lower reservoir using cheap power to pump it back up the hill, and then storing it at the top of the hill. And then and then running it back down again, during periods when when prices are higher. Now you can do both in the same scheme. And there there are several examples of of both, so you might collect the your snowmelt or your rain up in the up in the hills, run it through the run it through the turbine once and then go, Well, you know what, I wouldn’t mind doing that the second time, and pump it back up the top of the hill again. And that that is particularly useful for areas where there’s seasonal variations in the amount of water that comes through the system, snow melt, for example. So during the during the autumn, you might, you might pump more water up the top of the hill and use it in pumped hydro mode during the spring, you might just use it as a once through system.
Tim Hughes 18:31
And so that will be something where, for instance, because one of the issues that seems with solar or wind, but particularly with solar here is that we can’t store we can generate more than we can store. Is that right?
Andrew Murdoch 18:44
Yeah. Correct. At present, yes, the generation, the PV generation capacity is significantly higher than our ability to store it.
Tim Hughes 18:52
So the pumped hydro is a good solution to use that excess energy in a way of pumping the water back up. So that effectively having it as an extra battery like that the hydro itself serves as a battery. So you can then use that power in the evening?
Gene Tunny 19:06
Yeah, well, it’s a solution. The question is, is it a good solution relative to other solutions we have for for transitioning to net zero, right? Because it’s there’s a cost to it, isn’t there? I mean, presumably like building these big, these pumped hydro dams. That’s I don’t know how billions of dollars, isn’t it? I mean, it’s huge amount of money that we have to spend and…
Andrew Murdoch 19:28
Correct, correct. Yeah, these are big projects. They’re big civil works projects, billions of dollars, many years. Lots of geothermal risk, lots of opportunity, say lots of geotechnical risk. I beg your pardon. Lots of opportunities for the projects to not go as well as perhaps we first planned
Gene Tunny 19:47
Now geotechnical risk. You mean the risk of earthquakes?
Andrew Murdoch 19:50
No I mean, the risk of rock being harder than you expect it to be.
Gene Tunny 19:54
Andrew Murdoch 19:56
I mean, and I mean the risk of tunnel boring machines getting stuck for months. underground, those kinds of those kinds of exercises. So it really impacts in terms of cost and shedule risk and you know, it’s, it is difficult to, it is difficult to predict what rocks underground will cost to dig. And many a construction company has gone to the wall because of not not understanding geotechnical risk.
Gene Tunny 20:22
Right. Wow. Okay. Yeah, that’s that’s a really good point. Because we’ve got to build two new pumped hydro here in Queensland. And that’s because yeah, we need the storage, because we’re going to be relying a lot on solar and wind, we don’t have geothermal as they do in was it Iceland or somewhere like that?
Andrew Murdoch 20:39
Yeah. Iceland and New Zealand, New Zealand, to a lesser extent PNG.
Gene Tunny 20:44
And geothermal will be good. Because is it 24/7 effectively?
Andrew Murdoch 20:49
Correct. Yeah. So the volcano doesn’t sleep. Right. Yeah. So the hot granite doesn’t sleep so it’s a heat source that is there 24/7? It’s a good baseload reserve so…
Gene Tunny 20:59
Yeah, I guess what we’re interested in is, because there’s an upcoming event at the, It’s at The Tivoli I think isn’t it Tim? I think so, yeah, around the corner from where we are here in in Fortitude Valley or Newstead, and it’s about does Australia need nuclear power? Because we’re discovering that the greater penetration of renewables relying more on renewables, well, we need to upgrade the grid, we need to upgrade transmission lines. And there are all sorts of, you know, huge estimates of what that could cost. I’ve seen a trillion dollars or so, it seems that there’s there’s an argument about all what is really the cheapest cost of electricity once you take into account all the all of these network costs, there was a controversy about the CSIRO levelized cost estimates. Could nuclear be part of the the solution given that there are all of these costs with renewables? And we’re not really sure whether it will, well, I mean, maybe maybe we are sure it will work. This is what I want, I’m interested in your view on to what extent should we be looking at nuclear as a potential backup or a plan B, if this, this current plan doesn’t work out?
Andrew Murdoch 22:09
Yeah, well, we certainly should be considering nuclear as one of the options. The, the engineer in me likes to consider things with a sceptical and enquiring mind. So what are all of the options? What are the ones that will work? What are the ones that won’t work? What will they cost? What are the probability that we will achieve the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve? So in the context of assessing any type of technology, we should be looking at? What is it going to cost? What are the consequences? How does it impact our society? How does it impact our landscape? My personal view is that, that advanced small modular reactors have a role to play, particularly when we’re getting into the very deep baseload. So the power that has to run 24/7 at very high levels of reliability, that’s going to be very difficult and expensive to do with intermittent renewables. And it is possible to do it with intermittent renewables, it’s possible to do it with intermittent renewables and storage and gas topping. But another arrow in the quiver of decarbonisation tools that we could use is small modular reactors.
Gene Tunny 23:21
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 23:55
Now back to the show.
Tim Hughes 24:00
It is a really interesting area, because it’s changing very quickly. I was gonna ask, one of the big costs that gets talked about is the infrastructure. And I know before we started recording it was mentioned about Mount Isa, for instance, and the cost of running the copper string connection, which I’ll ask you to talk about in a sec. But as a general thing, the infrastructure as we currently look at it is extremely expensive. With the technology changing as quickly as it appears to be, is it possible that, obviously decisions have to be made now and action has to be done now, is it possible that some of this very expensive infrastructure may become redundant in the not too distant future with the possibility of, for instance, we haven’t also leading into the conversation about SMRs small modular reactors, which I imagine would require less of this infrastructure, if that was to be the case that they would be rolled out in more locations so we don’t need to move energy over large distances. So I guess the overriding question would be, you know, like with this changing technology, battery storage is obviously a big part of this, where it may not be necessary to put all this expensive infrastructure in place. Now, how does that pan out? Obviously, we have to go with what’s available, with current technology, how do we stop ourselves wasting money on infrastructure that becomes unnecessary, fairly soon?
Andrew Murdoch 25:26
Sure. Good question. I guess you there’s a whole heap of crystal balling that…
Tim Hughes 25:33
There is yeah and I realise it’s an impossible question. And it’s very much a sort of moot point, because this is clearly I mean, it’s all expensive. But there’s a lot of money involved in this. And and it’s, you know, it’s taxpayers money getting invested in these systems. And, of course, it’s contentious. And yet, of course, we have to go with what we know, we can’t put things on to what we think is going to happen. But it appears that is moving in a direction quickly enough that we might be able to, I don’t know, it might be prudent to hold off on some of these bigger things. So sorry. I’ve put about five different questions in there for you Andrew. So the copper string connection if we can go with that. So the current way of moving power over long distances is currently quite expensive yeah?
Andrew Murdoch 26:13
Great. Yeah. So I guess I’ll talk specifically about copper string because it’s an interesting project. And it probably in describing it, it, it probably addresses many of your questions. So firstly, the fundamental reason that you would want to connect Mount Isa to the national electricity markets are currently Mount Isa, Cloncurry and all of the mines that operate off that system operate on an isolated grid. So there’s a small power station Diamantina Power Station that operates in Mount Isa, it burns gas, it’s connected to the Carpenteria gas pipeline, and it provides power to those to the mines in those in that area. The original value proposition and this value proposition still holds true today in connecting Mount Isa to the national electricity market is to reduce the cost of minerals processing in Mount Isa. So if you reduce the cost of power, the bulk of the power consumption in the mount Isa grid is used to make big rocks into small rocks so that copper and other minerals can be can be leached out of it. So if you reduce the cost of power, all of a sudden, you can chase lower and lower grades of ore, your mine lifes get extended, and economic output from the northwest minerals province increases. So that’s the value proposition. If you connect Mount Isa to the national electricity grid, those existing power stations at Mount Isa, they still exist, and they can still generate power. And instead of just selling it to customers on the Mount Isa grid, they can suddenly sell that power to people elsewhere on the grid, they can sell it to you and me here in Brisbane or people in Sydney or anyone else who’s connected to the national electricity market. So it opens up the number of customers to them. You also end up in a situation where you have a high voltage electricity network connection going a long way west into a very high solar flux region. So you can still be making a lot of solar power in Mount Isa at 6pm when the sun’s gone down here in Brisbane, and we can take advantage of some of that geographical diversity in the in the network by building that extension. You’re also crossing over the Great Divide, so going from Townsville to Mount Isa, you’re crossing, you’re going very close to Hughenden. And there’s excellent wind resource. And of course, a lot of really, really sunny paddocks along the road as well. You’re going past Julia Creek and all the vanadium deposits in there. There’s multi pronged economic output that comes out of out of this particular investment.
Gene Tunny 28:43
So vanadium is one of those critical minerals, is it? So this is what you’re suggesting that we it might become economic to, are we mining it already and then we process it there? What would be the advantage of…
Andrew Murdoch 28:56
Yes, so there’s there’s a number of vanadium projects in the Julia Creek area that are going ahead and they they will probably be, those projects will probably proceed with or without copper string. It’s just if they can get lower cost power, then that helps the project. So those projects are going to ship the ore, they’ll either process that on site or ship it to Townsville where it will be, where it’ll be processed, and then either export it as vanadium. They also have some other other products that come with it as well. I think one of them has a an oil shale product as well. So there’s a petroleum product that comes out as well from those projects so…
Gene Tunny 29:33
Okay, good one. Sorry, I interrupted you before was just interested in vanadium.
Andrew Murdoch 29:37
Yeah, and then I guess to come back to the redundancy risk point. So for project like copper string, the redundancy risk is I guess, offset by the fact that minerals production in the Northwest will will continue for some time won’t continue indefinitely. At some point we’ll run out of minerals there to mine, irrespective of that is that the solar farms that are being built out there and the wind farms that have been built out there, once they’re built, they will continue to generate at very low cost forever. Whenever, you know subject to upgrades and stuff like that, you know, you might need to replace your solar panels and upgrade to the next level of technology, etc. But once you’ve, once you’ve developed them, why would you ever turn them off if you’ve got this zero marginal cost power coming onto the system? So I’m not so much worried about redundancy. In the context of putting new technologies such as SMR, or clean coal or any other technology into the grid, well, yeah, okay, they’ve got to stand up on their own two feet, every project has to be economically viable. And again, if I owned a wind farm or a solar farm that lived, lived out on the end of a long along spur or in a renewable energy zone, I wouldn’t be turning it off to make space for a competitor I would just keep keep generating so…
Gene Tunny 30:58
On the clean coal, you mentioned clean coal, that’s not really a thing anymore is it? Because they figured out it was not economic, is that right? The whole carbon capture and storage?
Andrew Murdoch 31:08
Not so much figured out that it was uneconomic, I think we just gave up on it. Which is a shame. If you look to Norway, and the US and Canada, they are continuing with carbon capture and storage. There are some carbon capture and storage projects happening in Australia. Santos are doing a project on the Moonee fields, and of course there’s Chevron during the Gorgon project, and all of the under the safeguard mechanism of any new LNG projects have to be 100% carbon neutral, so that sort of enhances the driver to collect reservoir co2 and reinject it back into into underground aquifers. So so…
Gene Tunny 31:51
That’s just the co2 or the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the actual extraction is it? Because it’s not in terms of not the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the burning in some other countries is it?
Andrew Murdoch 32:03
Correct yes. Yeah. So just the scope 1 emissions so for reservoirs, such as typical Northwest shelf reservoir where there is there is co2 and methane in the reservoir. Yeah, instead of venting the co2 and selling the methane that will now be required to deal with the co2 for all new projects connected to LNG facilities… safeguard mechanism.
Tim Hughes 32:25
So their own process becomes neutral as such.
Andrew Murdoch 32:28
Correct. So back to clean coal. Yeah, my personal view is that in Queensland in particular, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not pursuing clean coal. Now, that’s not to say that it’s going to be the answer. But again, it could be one of several solutions, or one of several contributors to lower lower carbon power in Australia.
Tim Hughes 32:51
Right, just on that note, so for instance, to get to 80% by 2035. So if clean coal was an achievement that could be done, that would be part of the 80% not part of the 20% remaining.
Andrew Murdoch 33:03
Well, it depends upon how you define renewable. Okay, so yeah, okay, so
Tim Hughes 33:08
So actually, sorry. So that’s the distinction is it’s renewable, not necessarily carbon neutral?
Gene Tunny 33:13
I guess you could say it’s renewable equivalent?
Tim Hughes 33:17
Well, no, it’s a fair point. I mean, like, for instance, I mean, as a consumer, like, you know, I love the direction this, this is going and it’s quick, and it stalled for a long time. It’s not too long ago, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, were making it making a joke out of renewable energy. So the acceleration and the take up has been incredibly fast, which is really exciting to see. And so the intention here is really good from the consumers through to the market through to government now, which is great. And of course, like the conversation like this really is like, well, how well can it be done? Is it realistic? And, you know, what are the best choices? Because it’s moving so fast? So clean coal? Yeah, I mean, like anything that gets extracted from the earth is still viable, in my view, if it can be done in a good way for the environment, like, you know, it’s a big conversation, but it’s basically can we do things ethically, sustainably, renewable, etc, that’s, that’s great. But these figures, these, these amounts going towards 80%. And, of course, at some point, 100%. I mean, that would be the ultimate target, I’m sure.
Gene Tunny 34:24
I think that’s, I think, in Australia, that it would be too difficult because of the intermittency and just, you’d need some gas still, don’t you? I mean, no one’s talking about 100% renewable at the moment in Australia, are they?
Tim Hughes 34:34
I can be the first
Gene Tunny 34:36
you can be the first I’m just wondering whether it would even be feasible. I honestly don’t know.
Tim Hughes 34:42
I guess from that all I mean, is like, you know, new technique because of the emphasis and the money and the brains and the work going behind this now, obviously, this technology is moving very quickly. So ultimately, yeah I mean, like we could end up with very clean energy fusion could be at some point in the future. I mean, like, this is decades away. Who knows what may happen? But the direction we’re heading in is a positive one. And yeah, we have to do what we can with what we have currently. Can we go back to the SMRs a little bit because this is something, this is something that was new to me with that conversation we had with Sir David Hendry. Looking into it a little bit like everything else, it’s a little contentious. It does appear to be a cleaner option, certainly than the traditional nuclear reactors. But it’s not without risk, and it’s not without some waste. What are your views on SMRs Andrew?
Andrew Murdoch 35:35
Yes, so I think they’e a good option that we should consider for that very deep baseload generation, that role that is currently provided by coal in mainland Australia. We need to address safety and we need to address waste because they are obviously weaknesses in the SMR option. So I’m going to make some comments. These comments are based on the the GE Hitachi BWRX reactor, which is currently being designed for a project in Canada. So BWR is boiling water reactor. It’s a it’s a reactor that consumes uranium 235, splits those into into through a fusion reaction, the core is surrounded by water, that water boils, the water is then dried and then goes through a steam turbine to generate power.
Gene Tunny 36:23
Sorry, you mean a fission reaction? fission reactor? Yeah, gotcha. I might have misheard
Tim Hughes 36:29
To be fair they’re so close. I had to really work that one out and lock it in. So fusion is the one that’s talked about often is a bit of a an Eldorado of energy production. But we’re not there yet. And it could be some time away. But fission is what we currently have yeah?
Andrew Murdoch 36:44
Yeah fission is what we currently have. Yeah. So yeah, so that’s splitting atoms, fusion is squishing them together. Yeah. The power output is moderated in the in the fission reactors by a boron set of boron carbide plates that move up and down within the uranium to regulate the absorption of neutrons. And that dictates the rate of the nuclear reaction and the generation of heat. So these boron boron carbide plates in a modern reactor is when they’re fully inserted, they will will slow the reaction right down and let it come to an end. So in a modern reactor, they’re held up by a set of electromagnets, should power fail to the reactor, if something happens, then that electromagnet obviously loses power, the boron plates will drop under gravity into the off position, and then the reaction will come come to an end. Older reactors don’t necessarily have that failsafe mechanism, there might have been some mechanical linkage that might have had to push them up rather than rather than let them drop down etc. So, you have this this safety system where if the power goes up, it moves to a safe position. One of the improvements that came out of Fukushima was to introduce reduce the energy density in the reactors so that they could cool naturally using convective currents. So the the the GE material states that the BW RX will cool naturally for up to seven days without any operator intervention without any external power. So when we when we start to look at Chernobyl, and that was an issue with the positioning of the control rods, and Fukushima where the the circulating pumps stopped working. Those two failure modes have been addressed in these new newer reactors. The other comment is that are lower temperature, lower pressure. So the GE Hitachi machine runs at 285 degrees C and around seven and a half mega pascal, which compared to a coal boiler is relatively relatively low temperature and low pressure. So if we were, if I was specking, up a new coal fired power stations today, it would be 600 degrees and 30 MPa, so significantly hotter, significantly higher pressure, so pushing the boundaries of modern material science, whereas the BWRX has a lot more achievable, I guess, more comfortable pressures and temperatures that give you a wider range of materials that you can select from and will last a lot longer with respect to creep life and fatigue.
Gene Tunny 39:20
Right. One of the things I think I remember about these SMRs, I don’t know if we chatted about it last time, or if it was when I was chatting with Ben Scott on on the show, can you just put these where we’ve got existing coal fired power stations, you can replace the the coal fired power? What is it the generator or whatever it is, with the with the actual SMR?
Andrew Murdoch 39:30
Yeah, it looks so in my view, that’s a good location for them because you already have the transmission infrastructure and you already have the water. So an SMR is going to use about the same amount of water as an equivalent coal fired power station, maybe a little bit more because that because those temperatures and pressures are a little bit lower, so the thermal efficiency is not quite as high. So it might use a little bit more water. And there’s no reason why we can’t put some hybrid cooling in there as well to reduce that water consumption. So those issues are all are all solvable.
Gene Tunny 39:42
What’s this hybrid cooling?
Andrew Murdoch 39:45
So the traditional way of cooling steam turbines is using evaporative coolers. So they’re the big hyperbolic cooling towers that one associates with nuclear power stations, actually nothing to do with the nuclear part, it’s everything to do with the steam turbine part. Yeah, so and that basically evaporates water to, to take the heat out of the condenser. A dry cooling tower is more like a radiator in your car, where you’re just using the air circulating through the radiator to cool it, a wet cooling tower will an evaporative cooling tower will will be more efficient, because it drops the temperature to the dew point temperature rather than the dry bulb temperature, which gives gives you a couple of percent of efficiency in your steam turbine, which is very valuable. And then if you do a hybrid you the reason you would do a hybrid is essentially to save a bit of water, drop the high temperature heat out using the radiator and then still achieve those lower temperatures by by taking maybe the last 10, 20% of heat out using evaporative cooling.
Gene Tunny 41:12
Right. Okay, gotcha.
Tim Hughes 41:15
So there’s still some radioactive waste from SMRs. Is that right? So it’s reduced. So compared to the energy it can generate, it’s less than a large nuclear station, nuclear power station, but there is still some waste percentagewise, I guess, compared to the power generated,…
Andrew Murdoch 41:35
Correct Yes. Yeah.
Tim Hughes 41:37
Radioactive waste. I mean,
Andrew Murdoch 41:35
Correct Yes. So yes, it does generate high level radioactive waste. And the most significant part of that is the spent fuel rods. Now the spent fuel rods can be reprocessed. It’s I can’t remember the ratio. Now it’s something in the order around 95% of the energy remains in, in the uranium fuel rods after they’re removed from the reactor so that reprocessing which is essentially is, is refining the amount U235 and removing some of the U238. And once it’s reprocessed, it can go straight back in the reactor and run for another…
Tim Hughes 42:08
So is this transuranic waste? Is that right? Because this is David Henry mentioned about he referred to transuranic waste, which can then be reused by the SMR. I’m just repeating this is. I mean, this is we went over this briefly with Sir David. So it would be something we could put to him directly. But that was my understanding that there was a certain amount of the waste that can then be used as fuel by the SMR.
Andrew Murdoch 42:37
Yeah, correct. Correct. Yeah, the bulk, the bulk of it can be reprocessed, and reused. Now, that said, even if you don’t, and a lot of countries don’t reprocess their waste, because it’s quite expensive compared to to producing new fuel rods from raw uranium, even if you don’t you’re just still only generating a very small amount of waste.
Tim Hughes 42:57
Radioactive waste is pretty serious stuff for a long period of time. So the disposal of that, I guess, must be quite expensive, let alone the dangers of handling and processing that
Gene Tunny 43:08
We’ve got a lot of places you could bury it in, in Australia, Outback Queensland, Australia, you know, plenty of place.
Tim Hughes 43:17
So, um, but the thing is, obviously, with the aim for clean energy, it’s an uncomfortable addition to the suite of energy provision sources that we may be looking at. However, I mean, it was interesting, because I didn’t know of it until just recently with the interview with Sir David Hendry. He’s a climate econometrician so very keen on having, you know, a clean, ethical source. And he was a supporter of this. So it’s certainly interesting. And, you know, it certainly is something that needs to be considered because obviously, the alternatives, everything’s got to pay off at some point.
Andrew Murdoch 43:55
Yeah. And that we shouldn’t we shouldn’t be too glib about the waste issue. It is a serious, it’s a serious issue. And, you know, one of the one of the cons on the pro con balance of of any technology, my personal view is that if we do go down an SMR path that we should also be committed to reprocessing. Yeah. So look, I think the this conversation sort of highlights how complex energy is and that in any technology choice we make there, there are trade offs that we have to make. If we look at things like land impacts, okay, well, in nuclear, yes, you’ve got to, you have to store the waste somewhere. So that’s going to have an impact on land. And yes, we’ve got some good geological characteristics about Australia and lots of space. If I look at Coal, for example, well, you’ve got to dig holes in the ground and that has an impact on the land if you want to burn gas you’ve got to go and you’ve got to go and sink gas wells and that has an impact on the land if you want wind then you’re going to have to go and go and find some windy hills that are probably covered in some nice gum trees and and put up some wind turbines. If you want to put up solar farms, you’re going to have to go clear some bush or take some agricultural land or grazing land and turn that into solar cells. So there are no free lunches.
Tim Hughes 45:05
And if you want to store the energy, you’ve got to build the batteries.
Andrew Murdoch 45:09
Build the batteries or dam, the dam, the valleys or whatnot, all of these things, there’s a bill to be paid one way or the other. So the best we can do as, as a community is to is to assess all options. On a level playing field basis with a with a sceptical and enquiring eye. What is the best engineering? What’s the best economics? What’s the best ecological science? Can we afford it? will it produce the ecological social power reliability needs that we want? Or is it the best compromise of all of those?
Gene Tunny 45:42
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Based on this conversation sounds like we should be considering some more options. Maybe we’ve tied our hands. Because we’re not talking about potential role of nuclear, we’re not talking about potential role of clean coal, or there’s less focus on that, then there once was. This has been amazing again, really good. Good for us, because this is such a complex area. And I mean, I’ve got my own thoughts, but I don’t know enough about the engineering to be able to speak authoritatively on it.
Andrew Murdoch 46:15
Now. Look, it’s been a good discussion. Yes. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.
Gene Tunny 46:19
Oh, it’s a pleasure, Andrew, we’re always, always happy to chat. And yeah, it’s good to get your insights on the transition to net zero. So Thanks, Andrew. Thanks, Tim.
Tim Hughes 46:29
Thank you. Thanks, Andrew.
Gene Tunny 46:32
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Sir David Hendry, the renowned British econometrician, talks to hosts Gene Tunny and Tim Hughes about the state of economic forecasting and the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Among other things, Sir David talks about how to avoid major economic forecasting failures (e.g. UK productivity), forecasting global temperatures after volcanic eruptions, and the role of nuclear energy in the net zero transition. Sir David is currently Deputy Director of the Climate Econometrics group at Oxford. Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at email@example.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.
Sir David F. Hendry is Deputy Director, Climate Econometrics (formerly Programme for Economic Modelling), Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and of Climate Econometrics and Senior Research Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford University. He was previously Professor of Economics at Oxford 1982–2018, Professor of Econometrics at LSE and a Leverhulme Personal Research Professor of Economics, Oxford 1995-2000. He was Knighted in 2009; is an Honorary Vice-President and past President, Royal Economic Society; Fellow, British Academy, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Econometric Society, Academy of Social Sciences, Econometric Reviews and Journal of Econometrics; Foreign Honorary Member, American Economic Association and American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Honorary Fellow, International Institute of Forecasters and Founding Fellow, International Association for Applied Econometrics. He has received eight Honorary Doctorates, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ESRC, and the Guy Medal in Bronze from the Royal Statistical Society. The ISI lists him as one of the world’s 200 most cited economists, he is a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate, and has published more than 200 papers and 25 books on econometric methods, theory, modelling, and history; computing; empirical economics; and forecasting.
What’s covered in EP198
Conversation with Sir David:
[00:02:27] Economic forecasting: are we any better at it?
Transcript: Sir David Hendry on economic forecasting & the net zero transition – EP198
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It has also been looked over by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to pick out the bits that otters might miss due to their tiny ears and loud splashing. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:06
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode. Please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.
Hello, thanks for tuning into the show. In this episode, Tim Hughes and I chat with the legendary British econometrician, Sir David Hendry. We talk with Sir David about the state of economic forecasting, and about the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Sir David Hendry is co director of Climate Econometrics and Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. Previously, he was Professor of Economics at Oxford, and before that he was Professor of Econometrics at the London School of Economics. After the interview with Sir David, Tim and I go over our main takeaways from the conversation. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy our conversation with Sir David Hendry.
Gene Tunny 01:26
Sir David Hendry, welcome to the programme.
David Hendry 01:31
Thank you very much, Gene. Thanks for inviting me.
Gene Tunny 01:34
Oh, of course. It’s a pleasure to have you on to talk about forecasting. So forecasting’s something that Tim and I have been thinking a lot about. And we’ve chatted with Warren Hatch who’s a super forecaster with I’ve also spoken with John Kay, about radical uncertainty and how you deal with that. And I’ve also read your book on forecasting, the one with Jennifer Castle, and Michael Clements, and I thought that was very good. And who better to, to have on to talk about forecasting than someone who has really transformed forecasting and economics, someone who’s had a major impact on forecasting? So to begin with, David, I’d like to ask, how has economic forecasting developed over your career? To what extent has it improved? To what extent are there still areas for improvement? Could you talk to us about that, please?
David Hendry 02:34
So Gene, I don’t think it has improved. I think technology has but the actual practice hasn’t. The time that I got really interested in forecasting was acting for the select committee of parliament that was looking into economic forecasting, after the debacle of Nigel Lawson’s budget and then crashing the economy in the early 1990s. And what I discovered, and acting for them as an advisor, is that 90% of the evidence he got was people actually forecasting and only 10% was looking at how you should forecast, what should you do, what goes wrong when you forecast with no analysis at all? So we started a long programme of analysing what can go wrong in forecasting and why. And once you know that, what can you do about it? Well, obviously, there’s nothing you can do about things that are unpredictable. Right, so the pandemic, unpredictable, forecasters shouldn’t kick themselves because you’ve got it completely wrong forecasting December 2019, for 2020, to discover that it’s vastly different. I mean, the biggest ever fall in GDP in Britain, you couldn’t possibly have forecasted that, that’s not a problem. And we can’t do that, it’s you can start to improve the forecast as you go through 2020. and realise that things are going badly wrong, but you can’t forecast in advance. So we isolated two key features that go wrong in forecasting. One is unpredictable events like that, that shift the data. So data is going along, and then either shifts up sharply, like inflation, or shifts down sharply, like output. But once it has changed, you can do a great deal about it. Some methods now don’t work. And some methods do work. And the methods that don’t work are the methods that stick to what went on before. So they carry on at the same level. And that’s completely wrong relative to the new level. So you have to have very adaptable methods that jump as soon as the forecast has gone badly wrong. You use methods to try to adjust for that. We call them robust methods. Right? So they’re after the shock to GDP. They’re robust. So the Office of Budget Responsibility in Britain, forecasts productivity per decade, completely wrongly, every year, they were wrong for 10 years, if they’d used our methods of adapting because productivity had been growing at about 1.7% per annum up to 2012, and suddenly it stopped, we don’t know why it stopped. But it’s come back to the levels that we had in the 19th century. Point seven. But if you keep forecasting 1.7, we just get massively wrong forecasts all the time, very bad advice for governments. And our methods would have adjusted to that within a year, saying, Okay, it’s changed, it may change back. But meantime, you better forecast along this direction. So the actual, if you like, the forecast errors that people make today are very similar in size to the kind that were being made in the 1960s.
Gene Tunny 05:56
Right. Yeah, that’s a that’s a shame. I should I forgot to introduce Tim. Tim, do you have any questions for Sir David on that?
Tim Hughes 06:04
No, it’s, it’s interesting. I mean, this isn’t my level of expertise. I’m here as the layman in this partnership with Gene. So I tend to look at things from a macro view and more from a guy on the street sort of perspective. But I’m really interested in that when you say that, well, for instance, it hasn’t changed since since the 60s. What’s the delay in the take up of these modelling systems for government?
David Hendry 06:27
Well, one of the reasons it hasn’t changed is that the frequency of large, unpredictable events hasn’t changed. And they’re very common and much more common than people realise, except to see the pandemic has been, Oh, quite unusual. Of course, we’ve had lots of pandemics, some of them happened like SARS too, not to go anywhere. Others like the COVID have gone everywhere. Inflation in Britain in the 1970s. It’s very similar to what it is today. And for very similar reasons. Now, I think a lot of forecasting that you hear about comes from central banks. And that’s the kind of forecasts we can analyse because they’re made to publish it. We don’t see the forecasts within many major institutions like JP Morgan, or Citibank, or whatever, they tend to keep them to themselves unless they do really well, in which case, they tell you oh, we were doing really well. But when you look at Central Banks, say we take the Bank of England as a paradigm, their model collapsed with the financial crisis, it just fell apart, and they said it fell apart. So we started to build a new one, we pointed out to them why it had fallen apart. They’re using a method of mathematical analysis that works fine if things don’t change, but becomes like navigating around the globe using Euclidean geometry when things do change, that just, it just doesn’t apply. And its widespread use has been a disaster in my view, for macroeconomics, and is the reason so much of it has gone wrong, because it assumes that the method that these models are built on assumes there are no sudden, unexpected large changes. Whenever they occur, the models fall apart. And we had a letter recently in the Times saying the bank should try testing their models from the 1970s. And they would find it’s a shambles. It doesn’t work at all. Because the 1970s in Britain was filled with crises, 3 day weeks, IMF coming in, interest at 25%, inflation, etc. And their model just wouldn’t cope with that. And we’re now in is not quite such a bad situation, but we’re now in a similar sort of situation where a wage price spiral is kicking in, these models don’t have wage price spirals. They didn’t allow for the fact that people had saved a great deal during the pandemic, because they couldn’t spend it wasn’t, it was forced saving if you like, and as soon as the pandemic ended they started spending, the supply side had improved to meet this high level of expenditure. So of course, you have all these factors coming and they’re not in their model. So naturally, the model was A they said inflation wouldn’t go up and B they said when it did go up it would be transitory, whereas we were saying, it will go up and it will not be transitory, it will be very persistent and very hard to dampen down.
Gene Tunny 09:24
Right. So this is a letter in the Times I’ll have to have a look for that. That sounds interesting. And it’s a bit of a concern that the Bank of England hasn’t improved its, it doesn’t sound like it’s improved its models very much at all, because in 2010, so you gave a talk to the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and you were talking about the problems with the models that central banks were using. And this was in your conclusion, you said that “there are huge costs to underspecified models and I think the financial crisis is partly due to central banks having very badly under-specified models in their repertoire.” Would you be able to explain what what you meant by that? Is that what you’re talking about here? They’re not allowing for structural breaks. But are there also are there variables they’re not including? Could you just unpack that a bit, please?
David Hendry 10:16
Yeah, there are variables they’re not including and often including variables in the wrong way. So for example, the Bank of England includes wealth. Now some wealth is expendable, like your house, some wealth is potentially spendable like money invested in stock markets and bond markets. In some it’s very spendable, which we call cash, deposits and demand at financial institutions. And it makes a huge difference, to break these up, because wealth itself can change a lot but it doesn’t change expenditure because house prices go up, or house prices go down. But it can also change a little bit and hugely changes expenditures because people run out of money, they have to start borrowing, and they haven’t got time to sell their house or the bond markets in disarray. And financial markets have fallen hugely, and you don’t want to make big losses. So you need to think very carefully about how you include variables in models, as well as which variables to include in models. I was referring to the fact that the housing models in the US when the financial crisis started, were very weak, they didn’t cover all the aspects that that matter, because in some States, if your house price falls greatly, and leads to a large indebtedness, if it was sold, you can just hand back your keys and walk away. You can’t do that in other States. And the subprime crisis generated articles, even from central banks, saying that it’s really important to get poor people onto the housing market, because that’s where how you build that wealth, of course that led to all sorts of speculation, and then house prices crashed. And that’s poor people who end up suffering most and we got a very bad financial crisis. But you guys didn’t have it. Right Australia avoided it, because it hadn’t got engaged in quite such nebulous activities as the AAA assets that were worth nothing.
Gene Tunny 12:16
Yeah, yeah, we avoided it. I mean, partly because of mining. And then the Treasury and the government here, they would say that they had a timely fiscal policy response. I mean, there’s debate about the extent to which that was relevant. But yeah, we were we were lucky. And maybe we hadn’t had as much crazy financial activity as in the States and Britain. We’ve got our regulators too. So yeah, a variety of reasons. But yeah, that’s, it’s fascinating.
David Hendry 12:46
I was gonna say, the way macro economics is taught in almost all major universities around the world still relies on this approach of believing agents optimise across time into the future. And you can’t do that in a world in which you suddenly get big shifts, right? You’re what looked optimal one day becomes a disaster the next, for example, Royal Bank of Scotland trying to buy this Dutch Bank looked optimal to them in the state of the world before the financial crisis and did become an absolute massive disaster after it. And that isn’t something that’s taught in macroeconomics courses that I know off.
Gene Tunny 13:29
Yeah. Yeah, unfortunately, a lot of the macros become very mathematical. And you’ve got all of these forward looking models, these Ramsey type models, and yeah, but I wonder about the just how applicable, they are. So good point. Can I ask you about your methodology David? So you’re famous for having promoted this general to specific methodology, if I’m getting that right. Could you just explain roughly what that is and how its implemented and what the modern implementation of it is? I mean, you’ve got this automatic forecasting system. Could you tell us a bit about that, please.
David Hendry 14:11
The whole idea started in the 1970s, when it was quite clear that the then big models in the US and Britain didn’t really incorporate enough information. And if any, if you leave a variable out of a model that matters, say you didn’t include housing in a macro model, and suddenly you get a big change in house prices, the model will go wrong, because it should be, housing should be in the model, and it’s not there, and it shifts and that then shifts the reality relative to the model. So it became clear you needed to think very hard about all the things that might matter. And that then required you to put statistical method that could discriminate between what does matter, and what you thought might matter but does not matter. And so we had this paper in the mid 70s, on the consumption function in Britain, showing that you could explain everybody else’s consumption function failures by a more general consumption function that pointed out why they went wrong. And that led us to develop this general to specific as a very general approach. Now, it evolved greatly in terms of, as we realise, more and more the importance of shifts and outliers in forecasting, we began to develop these methods, which at first, I have to say were greeted with not scepticism but total disbelief that you could do it. So that to take the basic idea. Say you’ve got a relatively short time series that’s got 10 observations. And you think that within those 10, there might be a discrepant observation, somebody wrote down 10, when he meant one, right? You just fit the model to it, or it’ll go very badly wrong. So what we do is we create an indicator variable for every observation. So it’s one for that observation and zero elsewhere. So you get 10 of them. And you put them in in big blocks, say five, and then the other five, and they won’t do anything, if there is no shift, but they’ll pick up the shift when it happens. And we call this indicator saturation, because you put in as many of these indicators as observations. Now why would anyone think of doing that? Well, it was serendipitous. I was asked to participate in an experiment in econometrics, to model food demand in the United States, from 1929, which isn’t a great date to start, any time see, through to 1986. And I looked at what everybody had done, and they had all thrown away the data before 1946, they couldn’t model it. So I built a model of it and looked what had gone wrong in the interwar period, and discovered there were two gigantic outliers in I think, 1932 and 33 but don’t guarantee that it could have been, but round about that period. And Mary Morgan kindly went to the archives and discovered, guess what, the US had a food programme? Well, will a food programme affect the demand for food, you bet it will. So I put in indicators for those observations and immediately got a very good model for the whole period, for the period up to 1946. So then I thought, right, let’s fit the cost period, including the early one. But we’ll put in indicators for all the observations, which is the kind of forecast test and found the Korean War I think had one big outlier, but otherwise, it was fine. And then about a year later, thought that’s funny, I had put in indicators for every observation. All the ones for the pre war period and all the ones for the post war period. And it had worked, I got the best model of anybody. So I started talking to Soren Johansen, a famous econometrician statistician, he said, “You’re nuts. You can’t do that!” And about a month later, he emailed to say, “Yeah, I think you can do that and I think I know how to analyse it,” which because if you don’t analyse it in economics, they just ignore it. And so we published several papers showing detailed analytics of why it would work for impulses, we then extended that to steps and then trends. So we can pick up trend breaks, step breaks etc. So for our 10 observations, we might end up with 40 variables. Most statisticians look at you, you’re nuts. But actually, you can show it will work. Because if there’s no break, no trend, they’ll all disappear. If there’s no step shift, they’ll all disappear. There’s only one outlier, you’ll be left with one outlier. And that’s it. So that’s how we do general to specific now. And that’s why you need automatic modelling. Because a human can’t do that. The number of possible things is far, far too big. The computer programme can of course, do it in seconds, at worst, maybe minutes if it’s a huge data set, because it’s got many, many things to look across.
Tim Hughes 19:27
Actually, this probably feeds into one of my questions for you, David, which was, you mentioned about the modelling and the mathematics, and the current uptick in artificial intelligence, in AI, is that something that has made a big difference with the work that you do?
David Hendry 19:45
Now our programme is a sort of AI programme date back a long way. Because it’s experimenting with everything. It’s a programme that’s designed for data that keep changing. Most AI programmes are not. Most AI, it takes all the cases and trains the computer to identify things in those cases. But if the cases suddenly change, that’s not going to work. And so AI has itself, the way people have used, it has not made a big impact on forecasting yet. They have to adapt AI to learn from the data, and be ready for it to be adaptable into the future in a way that if you were trying to teach a programme to identify measles, you probably would just take all the cases of measles and the programme would be able eventually to look at the spots and say, Yeah, that’s measles. But if Measles can suddenly evolve, as say the pandemic did, what you’re trying to pick up by AI would no longer be relevant. It would look different, and AI would misclassify. So AI has got to be hugely changed to be relevant for forecasting, which is about a changing world. We’ve got climate change, we’ve got pandemics, we’ve got wars, we’ve got crises, we’ve got inflation, we’ve got changing population levels, etc, etc. Unless it can adapt to that it won’t be useful in forecasting.
Tim Hughes 21:15
In your view, do you think that that is quite likely that AI will get to the point where it will be more predictive and not just reactive?
David Hendry 21:22
Well, we’ve shown you can do it, ours is very simple AI, it’s nothing like the kind of complicated neural networks that are being used in some areas. But it does show that you can do it for forecasting, and it does matter. And in the M4 Forecasting competition, which was run from Melbourne, the AI ones or machine learning, as they were then called, did not do terribly well. We came seventh in our very simple one. And and it turned out that we spent about a 50th of the time that most of the other teams did.
Gene Tunny 21:57
Was this of a motorway was it was at the M4 motorway?
David Hendry 22:01
no no. M for Makridakis fourth forecasting competition. The M four we’re now at five. It’s currently ongoing. Makridakis is a Greek forecaster, who decided the only way to improve forecasting is to find what worked. So he asked people, here’s 1000 time series, we’re not going to tell you what they are, model them, and send us your forecasts for the next 10, 20, 30 observations. we’ll analyse those and see who did best. So at the M4 there was 100,000 time series to model. And you then have to forecast I think, up to 20 years ahead for some of them. And you’ve to send in all your forecasts. And they then worked out who did best and got closest to the actual numbers in the future. Actually Uber did, Uber won the competition, Uber, yeah, the car hire people got algorithms of the kind that could be applied to forecasting. But what they did, we think was accidentally wrong, that they looked across, say, nobody knew what the time series were. But it does turn out that some of them were, say, GNP from 1950 to 1980, and somewhere from 1990 to 2010. Right. Now, they looked across, do some series help us in forecasting other series. And we think they actually included the future of the series they were to forecast in the, seeing if these series helped it, which is why they forecast much better, because we’ve mimicked their method, when all the series are completely independent, and it doesn’t help. So they had to be doing something like that accidentally, I don’t think they realise that, some of the series where the future of others of the series…
Gene Tunny 24:00
Okay, yeah. Can I ask you a question that’s related to that? It just reminded me, because you were saying that they don’t tell you what the data series are. Now. There’s this debate about, well, to what extent do you use theory and you’re modelling, you know, theory driven versus data driven, is it the case that you can get a reasonably good forecast without any theory whatsoever or without any understanding of what the underlying what the data are actually measuring? Or do you need theory? How do you think about the role of theory in your modelling? David?
David Hendry 24:33
Well, when we were forecasting week ahead Covid deaths and cases in the UK, the model only used the past data. And for the first six weeks we were by far the most accurate forecasters relative to epidemiologists with their big models and taking account of whether, you met people who had it and all the rest of it, and that’s because their models needed about 10, 12 weeks of data before they even began to be useful, whereas we could forecast immediately without any theory. I mean, I understand the big models and why they work, but we thought you can’t use that. And it’s because the way COVID hit, it did big jumps, measured on very few cases. And suddenly, like Bergamo, you had 50 people dying in a day, right? And so you get these big jumps and our methods adapt rapidly. So in that area, you could do extremely good modelling without theory. But when it comes to economics, how many variables are there? 5 trillion, possibly in the economy, if you think of everything that’s going on, so you have to have some theories and say, well, most of those don’t matter. We just can’t deal with that. So we use a lot of theory in our models, but we embed it in the general. So say you have a theory, let’s take a very simple theory that only income causes consumption, consumers spend their income and that’s it. So consumption is related to income, period. Okay, we keep that and embed that within a model in which things like well, maybe interest rates matter, maybe wealth, maybe liquidity, maybe, etc, etc, etc, matter. But when you’re searching, you don’t search over the relationship between consumption and income, you always keep it there. And if it doesn’t matter, then it will turn out to have a very small coefficient, and you can decide to drop it in the end. But if it does matter, and it’s the only thing that matters actually our method will give you the same answer as your theory model. So we embed theory in such a way that if it’s correct, that’s what you will get. And if it’s wrong, you’ll get a better model. So it’s both theory driven and data driven.
Gene Tunny 26:53
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 27:27
Now back to the show.
And so you start off with a very general specification, lots of data in your database, lots of variables, if I’m getting this right, and then you allow for the potential potentially all of these structural breaks things where things go a bit crazy, you jump up to a new level, like during the pandemic or, or whenever, and we we dropped down from the trend growth path we were on maybe we were cycling around it and suddenly we’re somewhere we’re in this hole and so you’ve got models that can adjust for that sort of thing is that if a fair way of thinking about it,
David Hendry 28:05
Yes, it’s post, yeah. Yes. Once it’s happened, then the model will pick it up. So quite a good example that might intrigue you is finding out where all the volcanic eruptions occurred over the last 1000 years. And when the when one of my colleagues gave a paper in our methods at our General Environmental Conference, all the volcanologists were intrigued and asked us can you use these adaptive methods to show where volcanoes were and measure how they work? Well, the answer is yes, we adapt our methods instead of them being one zero zero. They’re kind of like a V. Because when a volcano erupts, the temperature drops immediately. But it then recovers roughly half a half a half a half of what’s left. So the V shape picks that up. So we found all the volcanoes from 1200 AD in the data set of tree ring growth dendrochronology. And the key thing about that Gene is as soon as you’ve got the first observation of the volcano erupting and the drop in temperature, you can very accurately forecast all the remaining observations to the recovery, by having this V shaped go half a half a half. And we showed we could forecast, okay, forecasting after a volcano in 1650 isn’t all that interesting today, but it tells you that the next time we get a world explosive forecast like Tambora or Krakatoa, we will be able to tell the world after it’s stopped erupting, how quickly the temperature will recover to the previous level. It also lets us adjust the so called baseline temperatures that IPCC use. That in fact have been several quite big volcanoes that have dropped the temperature a little bit for a few years, and that actually means that they’re cheating by using a slightly improper average over the periods they’ve picked, as they shouldn’t include the volcanic eruption, right? Because that’s when you should use the natural level that had been over that period overall, if that makes sense.
Gene Tunny 30:22
Yeah, that’s fascinating. And so your, so is that an application of your method? Or are you, the point you’re making about the volcanoes there? Or are you saying that you can apply some theory to get a better forecast? I’m just trying to understand
David Hendry 30:36
It’s our methods purely. And it’s just the knowledge that when volcanoes erupt, the temperature falls, but it goes back again. So the question is, what form do you use for that? We just invented one that says V shape, and then we put in a V for so, it’s just over, I think we had about 900 observations. So we’ve put in 900 of these Vs in big blocks, but it only picks up a significant g if there was a Volcanic Volcanic eruption, right, because otherwise, it doesn’t help fit the model. So it then just picks up all the volcanic eruptions, and the volcanologists started using this method, we’ve done one to get a new archive of volcanic eruptions since zero, like 2000 years ago,
Tim Hughes 31:24
Actually this probably leads us on, do you have anymore questions Gene?
Gene Tunny 31:30
No not at the moment, go ahead Tim.
Tim Hughes 31:33
David, I was gonna ask you about climate econometrics. So you’ve written a book on that with Dr. Jennifer Castle. So I was interested to see exactly what climate econometrics is, and how it might be able to help us tackle climate change.
David Hendry 31:44
Yes, climate change is caused by our economic behaviour. All our methods were developed for modelling economics. So it would be quite unsurprising that they would work from modelling climate change, which is due to economic behaviour, CO2 emissions, and nitrous oxide emissions, the way we travel, the way we live, the way we eat, the way we warm our houses, etc. All these things are economic decisions. And so if the methods work for the economic behaviour, they’ll work for explaining climate, they’ll actually also work for claiming, explaining things like ice ages, even though there’s no humans around then, because they, the kind of dynamics of ice ages how the amount of co2 in the atmosphere, the amount of past sunlight falling on the Earth, that’s created the temperature, the amount of ice that’s around, etc. All of these carry forward into the future and there’s really good data on ice ages, I mean, 800,000 years of pretty accurate data and how it evolved. And we can fit our models to that, again, very general. Now, why would you want to put in indicators? Well, of course, there’s often a lot of dust in the atmosphere. And dust falling on ice turns it black, which turns up the amount of heat that absorbs. So if you have a period of massive volcanism, which does occur, I mean, often you can have 50 years of vulcanism puts up so much dust, it actually changes the pattern, and you can pick that up, and the sudden jumps in temperature that were unexpected, for example. So it can be applied to all these issues. We’ve been applying it to modelling ‘How well is the UK doing in getting to net zero?’ Now we were at a particular point that we had very good data on all the ingredients that lead to CO2 emissions, the amount of coal, which was huge in the 19th century and up to about 1970 was pretty large in Britain, but then began to drop dramatically, because it became inefficient relative to other sources, but also because it was banned in household fires. When you were not allowed to have fires based in smoky coal because smoke, so you get the demand for coal falling, and that led to the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea. Prior to that the gas system was coal gas, which required you to burn coal to get the gas but it’s very inefficient so that got rid of coal and natural gas is much more efficient. And oil was throughout beginning to replace the use of coal in many industries particular. And then in 2008, the government banned it from being used to produce electricity. And that’s the death knell for coal in Britain’s there’s almost none used nowadays. Now, 2008 is something The Climate Change Act of 2008 amazes many people, both parties unanimously voted for it as did the Lib Dems is completely we need this, let’s do it. And you get a huge, very rapid drop in the amount of CO2 emissions in the UK. Now Britain’s been moving towards a service economy from a manufacturing one. But it hasn’t been doing that to get rid of CO2. It’s been doing that because World Trade Organisation rules meant you couldn’t put extra taxes on people who are cheating in the way they were pricing their products. And so they killed off a lot of British industry. So I don’t accept that the offshoring has anything to do with climate change and claim that our domestic reductions. So Britain’s come down from 12 tonnes per person per year to four and a half tonnes per person per year over that period, which is a very dramatic reduction. America is still at 15. So it’s still above the highest it ever was in Britain. And one of the explanations we came across recently is that in Britain, cars went about 20 miles to the gallon in 1920. Now on average, they’re going 55. In America, they went about 20 to the gallon. And now they’re going about 20 to the gallon. And there’s many, many more cars, and they’re driving much further. So they’re consuming vastly more oil, and therefore gasoline. And therefore pumping out much more CO2, nitrous oxide, particulate matters, etc. They’ve had no efficiency gain, whatever, because they’ve gone for these bigger SUVs, much heavier, much bigger engines and petrol, gasoline has never been taxed in the US, whereas in Britain, the tax is about two thirds of the price of a pump.
Tim Hughes 36:54
Yeah, it’s expensive. Yeah, it’s a lot.
David Hendry 36:57
Yeah, it hasn’t discouraged people from driving. Right, people are still driving, there more and more kilometres on aggregate in Britain driven every year despite these high taxes and gasoline is one of my reasons for believing that carbon taxes will not by themselves solve the climate change problem. We need technology we need to adapt until we’ve written several papers, proposing a system of what we call five sensitive intervention points. That can be used to exploit how people behave without trying to change their behaviour, but to make them do things that will then be climate optimal. So for example, cars in Britain last nine to ten years on average, and then become obsolescent. So instead of buying another internal combustion engine car, price electric cars so that they automatically move over and buy an electric car. And if we did that, over the next 30 years, we’d end up with every car being electric, and nobody having suffered and have got the new car that they wanted at each point in time, but switching over gradually. But that requires you to be providing more electricity all the time to meet this, which requires upgrading the grid and installing more wind farms or solar cells, and maybe more small nuclear reactors and perhaps investing more in fusion in the hopes that the current breakthroughs can be made useful for society before 2050, and so on. And the paper tries to spell out how all these steps interact all the way down, clean right down to farming, how we get rid of the massive amounts of nitrous oxide, methane and even CO2 to come out to farming. That’s a huge concern in New Zealand, your neighbouring country, poor farmers, they’re objecting to fart tax. I don’t blame them. I mean, so how can they deal with it? Right? It’s, it’s not like you can deal with the tax when cars were getting more efficient when they’re driving less or getting an electric car. They need to think of the technology that will reduce methane emissions from animals. I don’t know if you know that there’s an island off Orkney called North Rolandsay, where the sheep are not allowed off the Shore, there’s a wall around the island and all the sheep are kept on the shore, and they eat seaweed. But methane…
Tim Hughes 39:25
Yeah, I heard about this recently. And because I was going to say I agree with what you say about technology, making these changes. So you know, rather than forcing people’s habits to change or you know, doing something drastic with our food chain, etc, the technology will contribute towards those changes. And yes, I saw that the seaweed or additives made from the seaweed could be one of the solutions for for methane. So just by adding it to the food. Obviously, it’s early days to see if that may or may not work on scale. But it’s encouraging It is encouraging to see those breakthroughs.
David Hendry 40:02
I think the breakthrough that’s needed is to synthesise the chemical. that does it. Because I don’t think you can grow enough seaweed to feed all the world’s cattle, sheep, goats, etc. I think that’s not on. But knowing that asparagopsis taxiformis, which is the one that seems to be best for stopping the thermogenic reactions within animals, it could be synthesised in the way that aspirin was taken from willow trees, and then Bayer worked out how to synthesise it. And I think these these things are possible. So yeah, I mean, our paper suggests that all of it is possible. Some of it needs subsidies, I don’t think tax is the right way to do it. Because we saw the uprising in France from the yellow vests. And that’s happened in Sweden, people object to their lifestyle being disturbed. This doesn’t disturb their lifestyle. It just says, oh, you know, you’d be better off if you do this. And then you can keep manufacturing going making cars but electric cars and wind turbines and solar cells and heat pumps and so on. All of it’s out there. And the thing that I do emphasise when I meet sceptics is by the end of the 19th century, we had cars that were electric with rechargeable batteries that could go up to 50 miles between recharges. We had solar cells, on roofs, we had wind turbines that were being used on farms, we knew that climate change was caused by excess CO2. And everything was in place for an all electric society, we knew how to generate it from hydro power, from wind power from solar power. But then the Americans discovered oil and the internal combustion engine. And that
Tim Hughes 41:54
So that technology was there at the end of the 19th century. You’re saying?
David Hendry 41:57
At the end of the 19th century, all of it was there. And we trace who invented it, how they invented it, how it developed? Yep, it was all there. Not LED lighting, that’s an important, more recent development.
Gene Tunny 42:12
Yes. Can I ask about that? That paper? I’ll have to look it up. It sounds fascinating. So have you you’re you’ve done modelling, have you of this path to net zero for Britain? Is that what you’re saying?
David Hendry 42:20
That’s what we’re saying yes
Gene Tunny 42:24
Okay. And yeah, it’s feasible. If there’s this technology, some technology shifts, technological improvements, but also that there may need to be some subsidies for electric vehicles, I think, was that what you were…
David Hendry 42:37
For the electric vehicles, but also for the grid. You need a massively improved grid, both because there’s vastly more electricity, but it’s got to be more resilient to climate change, because climate change is going to happen. Irrespective, even if we managed to reduce everywhere, it’s still going to carry on for a long time, because the oceans and the air have got to calibrate the temperature. And that takes a long, long time to happen. So sea level rise will continue, the Earth will continue to warm but at a slower and slower rate, if we stop pumping out quite as much CO2. And obviously, if we can find ways of extracting it, to research that, that would help. One of the things that does extract it, believe it or not, is basalt. Stuff that volcanos erupt, right? Now, if you look at photographs of volcanoes, the land around them is very fertile. So you can actually replace artificial fertilisers by ground up basalt. And that will act as a fertiliser, because it’s got all the minerals in it, but it also absorbs CO2. So it actually helps reduce CO2 whereas artificial fertilisers in making it they produce CO2, they produce nitrous oxide, etc, etc. So one of our proposals is that we start switching quite rapidly to using ground up basalt which costs next to nothing. There’s 300,000 cubic kilometres of basalt in India. That’ll take a long time to use that up.
Gene Tunny 44:12
Right, I’ll definitely have to check this out. I mean, this is a big issue for Australia. How do we get to net zero? And I mean, Britain’s probably got some advantages over us, you, you don’t have as big an area. I mean, we’re gonna have to build all of this transmission to connect up the renewable energy. Like we don’t have nuclear energy here and the Opposition party is trying to push it, but then I think there’s going to be a lot of community resistance to that here in Australia.
David Hendry 44:37
Yeah, I can believe that. But do people understand small nuclear reactors? That’s the only ones we’re arguing for, not the big ones, the small ones. In Britain, lots of big ones. And they’ve produced a lot of transuranic waste, that’s going to be a huge problem for humanity. Now, there are two advantages to small nuclear reactors. One they can use that transuranic waste as their fuel and greatly reduce the amount of radioactivity that needs to be dealt with from it. And secondly, they’ve been used in nuclear submarines for 50 years, and there’s never been an accident. So they’re very safe and they don’t have any fissionable material that terrorists might want for bombs. I mean, the stuff they’re using is useless. Other than burning up the waste, it’s a problem anyway. So if the public knew that these are harmless, that they’re getting rid of a problem, you don’t have nuclear reactors, so it’s less of an argument there. But in Britain, people would jump at the chance to cut the amount of nuclear waste that needs to be disposed of, burying it or put it in deep caves, etc. And these guys can do it
Gene Tunny 45:52
Right Yeah. These are the small modular reactors, are they?
David Hendry 45:56
Gene Tunny 45:58
I think that’s what Peter Dutton, who’s the Opposition leader here, what he’s talking about,
David Hendry 46:02
Oh good for him, I think they are actually an important component, but only one possible component of an electricity provision, that would give more energy security. And, and be something that can work in almost all circumstances.
Tim Hughes 46:18
This is an area that we’ve talked about a few times, and one of the things that comes up is that the most likely scenario would be to have a suite of different options as to where they get the power from. So for instance, we’re very lucky here in Australia, we have abundant supply of sunshine. And so that’s clearly one of the options open to us, which we currently use, and it will grow. But there’s also hydro, there’s wind, there’s other options and having the various different things available. So that for instance, I mean, I know in the UK, for instance, like to rely on solar isn’t something that you’d want to rely on fully. So it would be the same everywhere I imagine and that that those suite of options or those suites of available power supplies would be different around the world. But it does seem to be that a lot of this is driven by the market, which we’ve noticed here and it has come up in conversation, which is that’s that seems to have been a big change, where that it’s been widely accepted that climate change is real, and that most people do want to have clean oceans, clean atmosphere, clean fuel. And so that driving force from the market, seems to be also then instigating the technology from the suppliers of those options, you know, people like Elon Musk, or, you know, these, these people who can make things happen very quickly, much more quickly than governments can. So it seems to be accelerating and going in the right direction. And so the net zero target is 2050. I think, is that right for the UK?
David Hendry 47:51
That’s right, it’s too far in the future. But we’ve picked it because the costs of adjusting to it are near zero, and probably even positive benefits from doing it slowly, in terms of machinery running out, cars getting obsolescent, trucks needing replaced. Developments, I mean, in solar cells, for example, Perovskite cells are now able to produce 30% of the energy from the sun as against the standard solar cells 22. That’s an enormous improvement. And that technology will take a little while to get commercialised and applied. And then people will have much, much more efficient solar cells to put on their roofs.
Tim Hughes 48:32
And the infrastructure needed for electric vehicles is obviously going to be enormous, especially in the built up areas. So it’s going to take some time for it all to happen.
David Hendry 48:44
Absolutely, but if the market prices correctly, it can be profitable for them to instal all the connections, it doesn’t necessarily cost much in the same ways they built filling stations. I mean, they didn’t build them for fun. They built them to make a profit to build these guys to make a profit as well.
Gene Tunny 49:03
Yeah, there’s some big issues here. Tim, one thing I would say on the solar I mean, even though we’ve got abundant sunshine, the challenge is, it we’ve got to store that solar energy for when it’s actually because yeah, that’s one of the problems because you don’t have it at night and yet there’s a big peak in demand when everyone gets home from work. And yeah, that’s why we’re having to build hydro where the State government’s here is investing heavily in hydro and trying to progress some couple of hydroelectric plants quite rapidly, which is, which is what you need to do so
David Hendry 49:33
Yeah, Britain’s rethinking hydro again, taking the Great Glen and converting it to a massive lake to reservoir to bag more hydro and Norway has always produced most of its energy from hydro. The first ever house to be lit by electricity was driven by hydroelectric. Armstrong, the gun manufacturer, built a hydroelectric system for just providing his house with electric lighting. That’s the first in Britain. So that’s part of the 19th century that we could have got an all electric world. And storage is a big problem Gene really is. And we’ve recommended using nighttime much later nighttime surplus energy to produce hydrogen. There are several methods, let’s not go into them parallel assistant electrolysis and creating liquid hydrogen, right. And liquid hydrogen is a fantastic storage of power. Okay, and you can use it either for heat, or to provide the electricity that you don’t have otherwise, indirectly or as a high heat source for industry if we’re going to get rid of coal and oil, they’ll need a high heat source. Well, you just see NASA’s rockets taking off and you realise you can get a lot of heat using liquid hydrogen mixed with oxygen
Gene Tunny 50:56
And so do you think that could be commercially viable, we’re trying to build a hydrogen industry here, not me, but the state government and the industry. And I know the Japanese are very interested, Mitsubishi and companies like that they’re looking at, they’ve got all these exploratory projects up and down the coast here. I mean do you think it could be commercial?
David Hendry 51:16
Yes, definitely. I don’t know what the cost to steel makers is of their energy provision. But if the hydrogen is made from the surplus energy at night, from things that wind turbines, which often have to be switched off, because you’re producing electricity that can’t be consumed, but it will always be able to be consumed from making surplus hydrogen, that’s our surplus energy for making hydrogen. And the cooling will also require a lot of energy. So I think it could actually, they could actually end up paying people to make hydrogen. Right to stop the wind turbines being turned off when a large percentage of your electricity is coming from wind turbines. And it’s coming at night, when you know three in the morning, the demand is zero. So I think there’s strong possibilities of using that.
Tim Hughes 52:10
That’s good battery technology is really another area as well, of course that is is going ahead. I was just trying to remember the name of the technology, I think it’s single cell batteries. If that sounds right. But I know Toyota, for instance, have invested a lot of money in this next generation of batteries. And it’s been talked about in the realms of that there will be sufficient enough in a car that you’ll be able to power your house from your car. So it’s that kind of capability that is being expected. Remember John Atkins, mentioned this in one of the
Gene Tunny 52:42
Yes, we might have to go back to that Tim and have a look and put some links in the show notes.
Tim Hughes 52:49
It’s a thing, it’s a thing. I didn’t make it up, I promise.
David Hendry 52:51
Okay, so you have to remember that using that kind of technology, a glider went around the world. Right? Yeah. It was a glider, but they did do it, and Britain has several electric aircraft for short distance travel, which are all electric. And trains. I think both Germany and Britain have been developing trains that ran off fuel cells of the kind that are driven by hydrogen. And they do produce enough electricity. But at the moment, the machines that do it are enormous and very heavy. So they have to find some way of producing fuel cells that work from much less expensive and heavy technology. But why not have solar cells in the roof of your car? Well, at the moment people would rip them off, of course, thieves would just take them, but they become ubiquitous. That may be one of the routes that we could do. Another as you mentioned, Musk, at one point, Tesla put up a video on the car being the battery. And they used graphene tubes filled with electricity all the way around the car, and then it provided enough electricity to drive the electric engine for 1000 miles. They dropped the video very quickly. And we don’t know if they dropped it because it was giving away secrets of they didn’t want or it didn’t work to try to match it didn’t work. I think it should work. I can’t believe that I mean graphene is a super capacitor can store enormous amounts of electricity. And there must be a way of using it and making graphene has now become very straightforward. You can take waste plastic, it was a laser and you turn it because it’s a carbohydrate you turn it into carbon and the carbon can be turned into graphene. Just pick up the tiny bits and join them the way that they originally discovered graphene in Manchester.
Gene Tunny 54:57
Incredible. That’s just incredible what’s going on, David we’ll have to put, I’ll put a link in the show notes to your research group on climate at Oxford, isn’t it. So I’ll put a link in because there’s links to all sorts of great stuff you’ve done and all great articles. There’s one more thing I wanted to cover before we wrapped up, because I know we’re getting close to time. There was one thing that you mentioned in that talk that you gave in 2010. This was to the Institute for New Economic Thinking, if I remember correctly, I think was George Soros in the audience? It was incredible. It kept showing George Soros in the audience because I think it’s his, his Institute, or he funds it. But there’s a mention of the insurance company, you talked about this large US insurance company that you’ve done some modelling for or they were using your approach and 5000 variables, and but only a few 100 data points? And could you give us a flavour of what type of modelling that was? I mean, without revealing anything commercial, I was just…
David Hendry 55:55
Yeah, okay. So the 5000 variables are things like a 28 year old, single woman living in Texas with one car, and no children and owns their house. And that’s a variable. Right. So they then price their insurance for her house, knowing all these factors. They were finding that the sales were getting too difficult. And they wanted some simplification of what was actually driving their profit. So Jurgen Doornik who actually did this work, already had auto metrics, working with quite short time series on these sorts of various people. But you could then model all the things that might be taken into account and discover, actually, it didn’t matter that they were single, it probably didn’t matter, they’re female, it probably didn’t matter they’d no pets, right? What mattered was that they owned the house or didn’t own the house that did have a mortgage or didn’t have a mortgage and whether it was fixed term or so very few variables turned out to matter. And it allowed the company to dramatically simplify the number of people that they employed for sales, right, they came way down until when the financial crisis hit, their cost base was vastly lower. And they survived the financial crisis in the way that many insurance companies didn’t, because they, you know, they lost so much money in housing, for example. So that, although it says 5000 variables in most of them could never have mattered when being male would not apply taking female, for example. So males would not have been entered in the models for females and age that older people can’t be young females. So you can see immediately, although they talked about, we talked about 5000 variables, and there were most of them wouldn’t have been relevant in any given situation.
Gene Tunny 57:56
Right. And so this was the autometrics or autometrics is that part of
David Hendry 58:00
OxMetrics. That’s part of the OxMetric system. And it’s written in Ox, Ox is a computer language that Jurgen developed in the 1990s, early 2000s, it was the first attempt to get fully automatic modelling. And I have to say, our first attempts were really ridiculed by the profession, the idea that you can automatically model it didn’t require human intervention. Well human intervention is of course, thinking about what goes into the model. After that, itt’s pointless spending hours trying to see which is the matter when the programme can do that much more efficiently, much faster and much more generally. So it gives, we believe it gave much more time for thinking and much less time wasted in front of the computer desperately trying to find the model.
Gene Tunny 58:51
Yeah, it sounds to me like our central banks and treasuries and finance ministries should be, yeah they should, if they haven’t got a copy of your programmes, they should get a copy of them and start applying them because we certainly need to do better than the, than we have been in terms of forecasting. So…
David Hendry 59:09
RBS definitely has a copy, the sorry the RBA.
Gene Tunny 59:14
Okay, yeah. Yeah. It’s hard to know what they rely on some, I guess they they’ve got a model. I don’t know to what extent that it informs their policy actions. They got this Martin model, which is Yeah, yeah, it’s I don’t know. I don’t it doesn’t I don’t know whether it’s was developed using your
David Hendry 59:25
No, it wasn’t.
Gene Tunny 59:30
No I might have to come back to that because it’s a it’s a rather complicated model not not today, but just just good to Yeah, it’s good to good to find that out at least they’ve got your software if they and hopefully they’re making use of it to some degree. Okay, Tim anything more for Sir David?
Tim Hughes 59:50
No, I just think so it was really interesting. Thanks again for your time, and I think it just reinforces the, the way you talk about the modelling and the conversation we had about AI. Again, it’s something that’s come up in other areas where it’s a really powerful tool, but there’s a human discernment at some point to sort of like, bring it all together. And without that, it’s only so useful. And so I think it’s always encouraging to see that we need that human intervention to make sense of things. And sometimes humans get in the way of good modelling. I imagine, you know, that, but if we can give that amount of work over to the models and the AI to do the work for us as a tool, then, yeah, it’s very powerful.
Gene Tunny 1:00:35
Very good. Okay. Well, Sir David Henry, thanks so much for your time. I really enjoyed it really appreciate it really learned a lot. So thanks. Thanks so much.
Tim Hughes 1:00:40
Thanks for your time.
David Hendry 1:00:43
Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me interviewed.
Tim Hughes 1:0046
David Hendry 1:0050
Gene Tunny 1:00:54
So Tim, that was an amazing conversation with Sir David Hendry, what did you think?
Tim Hughes 1:00:59
Yeah, that was fascinating. I really enjoyed it. I was a very happy audience member for most of that but yeah, I really lapped it up.
Gene Tunny 1:01:06
Ah, you’re more than just an audience member Tim! I mean, I think you are. You’re participating in that conversation. And you’re asking some good questions. So yeah, it was good to have you onboard. And what I found fascinating is I mean, I had the I had the line of questions about forecasting. And then we went broader than than just the forecast. And we started talking about climate econometrics. And you know, what he’s doing the modelling of getting to net zero for the UK, which I thought was absolutely fascinating.
Tim Hughes 1:01:40
Yeah. And he mentioned that the modelling hadn’t actually progressed in many ways, like, not necessarily with the climate econometrics, but with the other modelling that we were talking about in the first half of the conversation, which was surprising to hear.
Gene Tunny 1:01:53
Yeah, the forecasting. I mean, not what he’s doing, because he’s really a leader in forecasting
Tim Hughes 1:01:59
Yeah so his model he could back
Gene Tunny 1:02:03
Yeah, I mean, and of course, he’s going to back his own modelling, but I’d actually believe it because he’s one of the gurus of econometrics. So when I was studying econometrics, or first started studying back in the 90s, he was one of the big names. And yeah, the approach that he had this general to specific approach where you’re, you’ve got this very general specification, you’re trying to hone in on this more specific specification, you’re searching for the right functional form the right way to express the equation, the right variables, the right number of lags, and some clever things to get things back on track. If they’re shocked things like error, they call them error correction mechanisms. You remember, he was talking about the volcano modelling the global temperature after a volcanic eruption, I thought that was really interesting how he had this clever little functional form this V shape to get to get it back on track to model that I thought that was really clever. And I mean, he’s renowned for doing that sort of thing in his economic models. And, yeah, I was surprised that there hasn’t been a more widespread take up of that approach. And I think my takeaway from this is that, yeah, there needs to be more education or more outreach from from David’s group, I guess, at Oxford to really, you know, promote their their methodology, I guess they’re they’re doing it, they’re trying to do the best they can. And it looks like, you know, central banks or reserve banks got a copy of their software, the OxMetric software, which has PcGive and the other, the other parts of that software, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not as widely used as it probably should be
Tim Hughes 1:03:50
With any modelling, couldn’t that just be run in tandem as a hypothetical to see how it might have performed against the current models? Is that how it would work?
Gene Tunny 1:04:00
Yeah, yeah. And hopefully, they’re doing that. But
Tim Hughes 1:04:03
yeah, because like, you would think at some point, you know, if it’s outperforming, everybody’s interested in, you know, the best outcome s o it would be interesting to see, didn’t, didn’t actually ask that direct question. But that would be interesting to know if that might be feasible or possible, or if it’s been done?
Gene Tunny 1:04:20
Well, I think hopefully, the central banks and Treasuries are using this approach, or they, or I hope they they’re experimenting with it, they should use it more from what I can tell. What I found interesting about our conversations, he was talking about how I forget whether it was the Treasury in the UK or the Bank of England, they were overestimating productivity growth in the UK for a consistent period for like a 10 year period or something. And so that sort of mistake could have real consequences because if you, if you’re overestimating productivity growth, then you’re overestimating what you’re GDP growth is, what your economic growth is, your, in your forecasts, and therefore, what that would mean is that you may not have your policy settings, your monetary policy settings, right, because you think GDP growth is going to be faster than it actually will be. And so maybe you’re not giving, you don’t have the bank rate low enough to to help, you know, promote economic growth. So that sort of forecasting error can have material consequences, if you know what I mean. So it’s important to get these forecasts, right, because if you’ve got those forecasts of where the economy is going wrong, then that can affect what the Bank of England does, or what the government does with its budget.
Tim Hughes 1:05:41
Yeah. And it seems to be human. The human influence, which is the most unpredictable, or the, the element that is most likely to bring around an incorrect forecast.
Gene Tunny 1:05:53
Yeah, I mean, I guess the human element and yeah, I mean, all sorts of things. But the problem is that the economy Yeah, I mean, ultimately, it’s about humans, because they’re, they’re the the units in an economy. But the economy is so complex, and so many moving parts, it’s just very difficult.
Tim Hughes 1:06:13
There was some, also, with the second part of it, the climate, econometrics, which was fascinating, I didn’t realise the extent to which Sir David had been involved in that. And so he was very deeply involved, and it was really interesting, that part. And I know we’ve talked about climate and getting to net zero and the the challenges faced with that, and the changes in the technology that is driving us towards that, which is obviously an ongoing and very interesting subject. And I have to say, so I made a, I was trying to recall this information that our friend John Atkins initially mentioned to us about solid state batteries. So I was trying to remember what it was exactly. So this, these is the one of the new generation of batteries, which, you know, is still in development. So we’ll link in the show notes, I found something from the Guardian of July 2023 that explains a little bit more about solid state batteries.
Gene Tunny 1:07:00
Oh, good. So what does it say?
Tim Hughes 1:07:05
It says, just briefly, that basically Toyota has made a breakthrough that will allow it to halve the weight, size and cost of batteries, it would be that we are, da da da make batteries more durable, and believed it could now make a solid state battery with a range of 1200 kilometres or 745 miles that could charge in 10 minutes or less. And the company expects to be able to manufacture them as soon as 2027. So this is obviously not, it hasn’t happened yet. So this is a projection. But it seems that they’re quite close. So this is the sort of, I saw this a few months ago, it wasn’t the Guardian article, it was something through ABC, I believe in Australia. Along those lines of about Toyota has worked with solid state batteries. Clearly, there’s technology being, you know, pushed forward all around the world on different areas, and which ones come to the fore or make it to market like, you know, we can only speculate. But it certainly seems that there are changes coming and more efficient, effective ways of storing energy and producing energy, that are all moving towards that target of net zero by 2050.
Gene Tunny 1:08:16
So this is something that’s better than the lithium ion batteries. Yeah.
Tim Hughes 1:08:21
And like everything else, there were problems at the beginning that they’re trying to work out. Yeah. So yeah, it says that for benefits compared with liquid based batteries. I think one of them was I saw that it doesn’t, they don’t burst into flames as easily, which is a good thing, like so when they say there’s no spills, for instance, from a solid state battery, if they get in a prang, or whatever may happen. I mean, I’m sure that there’s pros and cons with most new technologies. And I’m sure there’s none. You know, it’s no different with solid state batteries. But it seems to be one of the ones that’s coming through, it’s been around for a little while, and it seems to be progressing. But it’s just one of those areas that by the end of this decade, it’s going to be very different. And of course, by 2050, there’ll be things we haven’t even heard of yet, that will be key parts of the whole target net zero target,
Gene Tunny 1:09:10
We might have to get someone on the show who can explain to us batteries, solid state versus other types of batteries, because I’d be fascinating to know about the technology and what minerals are required. Right? Because I mean, you had that conversation with Guillaume about the Dark Cloud, wasn’t it? And that’s, you know, the, the fact that we do need to mine all of these, these critical minerals and that’s that’s got consequences, of course. So yeah, we’ll be good to have that conversation. Tim, one of the other things I found fascinating, yeah a couple of other things in the conversation. I found David’s point about all the technology that was available at the end of the 19th century. I thought that was fascinating. That was fascinating.
Tim Hughes 1:09:55
I didn’t I didn’t know that at all. That surprised me. It surprised me big time.
Gene Tunny 1:09:59
Yeah. yeah. And also the point about nuclear energy I was, yeah, that was really surprised by that, that he was so positive about it and thought it could work here in Australia, and that perhaps some of the concerns that we have in Australia, about nuclear energy are misplaced.
Tim Hughes 1:10:20
So that was specifically modular.
Gene Tunny 1:10:23
Yeah, the small modular reactors, and he’s saying they’re a lot safer. And this is something I talked about Ben’s, I talked with Ben Scott, about a couple of years ago, I think, on this show, the potential of small modular reactors, I though that was good that David brought that up.
Tim Hughes 1:10:39
Yeah, that was interesting. I hadn’t actually heard of that before. And I know that we’ve, like spoken about it before with Josh Stabler, for instance, with the the likelihood that there’s going to be different solutions to the energy provision in the future. So it’s not just going to come from one main source it’s going to come from most likely several different ones. So if modular nuclear power stations are a part of that, that’s quite possible. But it’s clearly going to be not just one thing. And just on that subject as well. There was it was mentioned about graphene, David mentioned, oh, yeah, I know this, that’s come up in a conversation we’ve had before here in Brisbane. There’s GMG, who are involved in that, here in Brisbane,
Gene Tunny 1:11:23
with GMG. So G stands for graphene I guess, and there’s…
Tim Hughes 1:11:27
Graphene Manufacturing Group. And so it’s in the space of renewable energy, and this whole push towards clean energy.
Gene Tunny 1:11:35
But what’s graphene got to do with it? Because graphene is a material, isn’t it?
Tim Hughes 1:11:39
Very good question, Gene. And this is something that I will get back to you as soon as I know. Yeah, because this is actually my solid, solid state battery moment in the in the wrap up, I managed to get another one in. So we’ll put something in the show notes to do with the graphene, but I know it was, it came up in a conversation we had with
Gene Tunny 1:12:02
ah apparently it’s going to create products with a better efficiency than the existing ones.
Tim Hughes 1:12:07
Yeah so it’s part it’s part of the all of this emerging technology towards better energy storage. Like most other things, it’s happening in many different parts of the world at the same time but we do have this, this company in Brisbane,
Gene Tunny 1:12:19
it looks like Yeah, yeah. Sorry Tim I just noticed it looks like someone’s built a graphene solar farm. So it looks. Okay.
Tim Hughes 1:12:25
Yeah. So to be to be explored, like, because it’s not something I know a great deal about, or, you know, so I think that w’e’ll definitely will, will earmark that for the next conversation we have about clean energy and where that’s going.
Gene Tunny 1:12:36
Yeah, for sure. Because this is it’s an ongoing issue. And I mean, the conversation, this isn’t going away. And you look at this northern hemisphere summer, and yeah, I mean, that’s just going to intensify this conversation, I think. Yep. Yeah. Okay. The other thing I thought was good about the conversation with David, I liked your question about AI and what’s happening with AI? And David pointed out, well, what they do, their algorithm, their automatic model selection algorithm, their auto metrics, that’s a form of AI. I thought that was a good point that he, he made there. Yeah, yes. Yes. So yeah, it was good question. So all in all, what a terrific conversation. And yeah, I really thought Sir David was amazing. He’s someone I would love to have here in Australia participating in the Australian policy debate on energy in particular, I think he could be that he could provide that sage perspective. He’s someone you’d pay attention to, he’s someone who’s very thoughtful, you know, good communicator, and as well as being a real gentleman.
Tim Hughes 1:13:43
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. And I found it very eye opening. And yeah, I think there’s, like you say, it’s an ongoing conversation. So it’ll, it’ll keep evolving. And hopefully, if we can, maybe they’ll be a round two with Sir David to continue that conversation.
Gene Tunny 1:13:59
We can only hope, so Tim, anything else before we wrap up this, this debrief?
Tim Hughes 1:14:05
No, I think I think I should stop while we’ve still got enough room in the show notes for
Gene Tunny 1:14:13
you introduce a new concept – then I ask ‘Tim that’s fascinating can you tell me more?’ Nope!
Tim Hughes 1:14:20
They say a little knowledge is dangerous. On this one I was lethal, but no, it was fun. I enjoyed it. And yeah, it’s it’s something that affects us all. And it’s something that’s changing very quickly. And so yeah, we’ll we shall return to that conversation no doubt.
Gene Tunny 1:14:36
Absolutely. Tim Hughes thanks for joining me on this conversation.
Tim Hughes 1:14:40
Gene Tunny 1:14:43
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Energy market expert Joshua Stabler shares his views on the current Aussie energy crisis and how well placed Australia and other countries are to transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Learn why Joshua thinks that transition could be disorderly, and learn about the role self-driving EVs could play and whether Josh thinks nuclear energy and hydrogen are realistic options for Australia.
Joshua Stabler is Managing Director of Energy Edge. He has extensive experience in supply-side market operations for the electricity and gas sectors, and as an advisor and system developer in the Australian energy industry.
Joshua is the architect of the Gas Market Analysis Tool (GMAT), which is utilised by gas producers, LNG participants, gas generators, end users, financial intermediaries and banks. Joshua is also the author of The Edge – Gas Market Update report.
Transcript: Aussie energy crisis & Net Zero transition w/ Josh Stabler, Energy Edge – EP170
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:00
Coming up on Economics Explored.
Josh Stabler 00:03
So we have a known urgency that we need to get rid of carbon out of the atmosphere because it is causing issues with regards to climate change, our ability to shift that rapidly, may be outside of our economic grasp. That’s the danger.
Gene Tunny 00:19
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny broadcasting from Brisbane Australia. This is episode 170 on the Aussie energy crisis and the transition to net-zero, not just in Australia but around the world. I’m joined by Josh Stabler Managing Director of Energy edge. Energy Edge is a Brisbane based advisory firm specialising in energy markets. Also joining the conversation is Tim Hughes, who helps me out of my business adapt economics from time to time. It’s great to have Josh on the show because energy has been very topical lately. High coal and gas prices, largely as a result of the war in Ukraine that pushed up the costs of power generation worldwide. Also, a cutback in maintenance during the pandemic has compromised generation capacity. Also increasing prices as Josh explains in this episode, just how bad are things energy markets, Josh helps us understand what’s been happening and what’s to come. Please check out the shownotes relevant links and information and for details where you can get in touch with any questions or comments. Let me know what you think about this episode. I’d love to hear from you. In the show notes, you’ll also find a list of abbreviations. There’s a lot of them when it comes to Australia’s energy sector, including any M for national electricity market and our Zed for renewable energy zone. Righto. Now for our conversation with Josh Stabler on energy markets. Stick around for the end of the conversation for what I think are the big takeaways. Thanks to my audio engineer Josh Crotts is the assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Josh Stabler Managing Director of Energy Edge welcome to the programme. Thank you for having me. Oh, it’s great. Josh. Tim, who’s joining me as well. Tim, my occasional co host, recommended you as an expert on the gas market and energy in general. So I thought it’d be good to have you on the show. So Tim, thanks for that. And good to have you on the programme again.
Tim Hughes 02:18
You’re welcome, Gene. Good to be here. Hi, Josh.
Gene Tunny 02:20
Excellent. Okay, Josh would be keen to know about your role at Energy Edge. What is Energy Edge? What, what do you do at Energy Edge, please?
Josh Stabler 02:30
Sure, so we’re a small boutique advisory firm in the energy market, we have sort of two different arms of our business, one sides, our advisory sites. So that’s helping businesses in the wholesale energy market, understand their exposures, that’s with both traditional assets and renewable assets. And on the second side, we have our software arm of our business. So we have our own deal capture system, we have our own risk and analytical system. We have a gas market analysis tool, and we have our own edge report, which we talk about things that are going on in the industry.
Gene Tunny 03:02
What do you mean by exposures? What are they exposures toward?
Josh Stabler 03:05
Oh, yes, so the commodity exposure. So we we we delve deeply into understanding what the business are, how it makes money, how it pays for its energy, and then using that commodity exposure, where then we’ll say simulate out the exposures that they have on making a sort of at risk assessments of the money that they could make. And then from that you can go into deep sort of risk metrics. So you can work out a business’s probability of exceeding certain levels, and that’s known as at risk modelling.
Gene Tunny 03:39
This is Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo simulation modelling. Yeah, good one, using At risk. That’s one of the tools you can use. Right. And what sort of clients
Josh Stabler 03:50
Ahh yes, we’ve we’ve actually supported about 80 to 100 energy businesses on the East Coast, which surprised me sometimes I never wouldn’t think there’d be that many. But, you know, we help all sorts we help, you know, most of the Queensland Gox, we’ve really supported. So we’re actually heavily involved with the setup of Cliniko, which is the latest Queensland Government generator that took over all the renewable projects in 2019. So we came in, help them set up their risk systems and help them get started ready for day one, and then they flip went on and did their own things themselves.
Gene Tunny 04:25
Right. So this is one of the Gox the government owned corporations here in Queensland, that’s looking at renewable energy options for the Queensland Government. Okay. Right. That’s great. Sounds like quite a nice portfolio of clients. And that’s great. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Tim, did you want to kick off with the first policy or economics question?
Tim Hughes 04:54
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s funny we’ve we’ve all talked about this at different times. So cobbling it together. We’re gonna start with Josh, a summary of how we got here, because I know you’ve talked about this before. And I think getting an understanding of this then helps with the conversation we will have about where we go from here.
Josh Stabler 05:14
Yeah, definitely. So how do we get here is such a, you know, an open-ended question, but in terms of, what are we looking at there. So during winter 2022, in Australia, we saw unprecedented levels of pricing. So the electricity prices settled at $300 a megawatt hour for the quarter, the highest ever previously was about 170. And this was across all the regions. So Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, were all at record high levels. And this was an accumulation of so many different things that have happened over the last few years. And if we go back two years ago, we have to go through the traumatic experience, again, with going through COVID was that during COVID, we had travel restrictions and congregation restrictions, which means that you couldn’t bring expertise from international space, and put them together to do preventative maintenance. And because we didn’t do the preventative maintenance on coal generators on gas generators that lowered their reliability of those assets. Now, the exact causality of each of those is not perfectly known. But what we started seeing was a rising of unavailability of the coal generators. Now, as we move forward through time, we started seeing other international things starting to change. The, the war of Russia and Ukraine was in March this year, but they actually started reducing their supplies into Europe at the end of 2020. So by the time that they’d reached the point of the Nord Stream failure in July this year, they had actually stopped delivering mushroom to Northern Europe, had lowered their deliveries from 17 petajoules, a day to 1.6. Now, that’s 16 petajoules less now that seems like a big number. And it is a big number, it’s actually the equivalent of 95 million tonnes of LNG, which is 25% of the world’s LNG cargoes. So the extraction of one country’s deliveries to Europe was the equivalent of 25% of the world’s LNG. So it’s a it’s a big, big variation in terms of this is probably the largest shock in terms of supply shock, ever, like I know what the equivalent would probably be the 70s sort of oil shock conditions. So it’s an amazing sort of outcome. But it started happening well, before we actually got to the point of war, which meant that we actually started seeing gas prices in the international space rising from September 2021, six months before we actually had the the actual war. And that led to a scarcity of that of energy starting to appear across the planet. And by the time we got to April, in Australia, we’d actually been buffeted away from this, we weren’t seeing any of the higher prices until we started in April. And that’s when it’s first started seeing a rising of the of the energy prices. This is on two fronts, one was on the coal international coal prices which reached $450 a tonne, which is the equivalent of around about $25 a giga Joule in the in the coal pricing. So that means that coal was not cheap. Coal was very expensive.
Tim Hughes 08:24
What was the regular price?
Josh Stabler 08:27
Yes, for the first decade of the market, it was $1 a giga Joule for coal and $3 or Giga Joule for gas. So that’s in the early 2000s. And progressively gas prices have risen and fallen. But the coal prices have stayed in that sort of $1 to $3 range. So to see it go 10 times the level is really just driving up an underlying input cost. And then by the time we got to May, we had our first event, the event of the roundabout, the 28th of April through to the sixth of May, was when we first saw a sharp increase in the electricity prices. And that was primarily driven by a large reduction in availability of coal generators. And so we saw a spiking of sort of 30% of the fleet was completely offline during May. In New South Wales, we’re talking 40-45% of the fleet was offline. So this is an unprecedented level, like a AMO forecast 12%. So we are three, four times the height in terms of unavailability of the coal generators during that period that caused electricity prices to spike. Two days later, gas prices spiked. So it wasn’t a gas rose and caused electricity to price up. Its electricity went higher and that caused the input costs to follow it up. So we had and once that once the dam had broken once we had the gas prices jumped up to around about $30-40 it connected to the international price which coincidentally was around about $40 a giga Joule, but just pure coincidence. And when once it reached that point, we started having the prices remain in that area. Now, the coincidence wasn’t that the price joined up the coincidence is that in the late 90s, we decided that the market should have a cap, the market cap should be $40. Nobody thought about that $40 cap when thinking about the Ukraine war in 2022, she just happened to be in a note number that worked out very nicely. And once it came that $40, we’ve just had it stay that level. And we’ve had the market go into a price administered state. And then during that, that level, there we had very high electricity prices. But we didn’t have shortfalls, they weren’t customers that were losing the ability to consume. They were just paying a lot in the spot market for those for that generation, that consumption.
Gene Tunny 10:52
Right. So look, there are a couple of things I’d like to follow up on there. Josh, you mentioned that COVID meant that we couldn’t get people over to do maintenance on coal-fired power stations and gas-fired power stations too. Yeah, right.
Josh Stabler 11:10
An outage is literally bringing expertise and putting them really close to each other in a kind of confined space. So we couldn’t get them in because they couldn’t fly from overseas. And when they were here, they also couldn’t do the work. So what we did was a lot of the generators moved their outages just to the next slot. And the slots are normally the April, May or March, April, May. So the shoulder seasons in terms of weather. And the second slot is in the September, October, November period, where you also have a lowering of demand. So you’d normally fit the outages in there, and they didn’t. So they moved them into the next area. And eventually we just squeezed them all together, and then assets just started to fail.
Gene Tunny 11:50
Yeah, that’s interesting. Something that Tim and I are interested in for in terms of, it’s another one of these potential world costs of lockdown or costs of COVID policies that are on the year, the negative side of, of COVID, or the cost side in a cost benefit analysis. So I have to check with Judy Foster’s included this in, in her analysis because we went to an event a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane here on pandemic and managing the pandemic. And there’s a lot of discussion about the costs and benefits of lockdowns. I mean, that’s, that’s not for this conversation. But I just thought that’s interesting as another cost of those policies during COVID.
Josh Stabler 12:42
And it’s not just Australia, the French nuclear facilities are all having an unheard of levels of maintenance right now. Because again, they also had to delay their work. So there was just that there was just a period of and so that that created some of the false security because in 2020, nobody had outages. So everybody had extra supply to the market, which caused prices to fall. So it wasn’t just that we had a lot lower demand, we had a slightly lower demand because of COVID. But we had an incredibly high level of availability of assets. Because no one did any work. No one was doing any work. But the repercussions of that are that there’s an increased unreliability, but be they’ve got it then do that work. You can’t avoid it. There are statutory obligations, you have to actually do it within a certain time period. Otherwise, you’re breaking the law.
Gene Tunny 13:32
Josh, can I ask you what’s the connection between the domestic price paid for gas in Australia and the international price they’re linked?
Josh Stabler 13:41
They are at time. So we’ve we had a very, very strong relationship during 2019, 2020 and early parts of 2021. And then in mid 2021, electric the gas prices domestically jumped up very rapidly, primarily due to domestic issues, domestic supply concerns, and then the gas prices internationally started to rise and they rose steadily from 10-15, 20-25, 30, $40 a Giga Joule, but the Australian Government gas market after about October or September 2001, all the way through to April was only about $10 a giga joule. So we had this rising International and a very low flatlined was still higher than historical numbers, but it was very low in relative terms. And the relativity really matters for a lot of businesses. If you are a fertiliser business and you sell fertiliser, you are a price taker, you take what the international price of fertilisers are worth, and that is priced on international price of gas. So if you have a relatively low price that absolutely high, you are still in a strong position. Whereas if you are a domestic customer who sells domestically then the absolute price is a problem for you because you’re passing that on to a domestic an audience who have to take the higher price. And that will directly increase their, their outcomes, because there they are a price setter themselves. So that, that differential there matters, especially over the medium term in terms of what that does for certain businesses. Now, once we got to make we, that’s when it joined up, and we had lots of periods where the domestic and international were about the same. There are periods where it looks like the domestic is cheaper than the is more expensive than the international but the international price was jumping $10 a giga Joule, every couple of days. So the volatility was more to do with the when you sample the data more than it was to do with the market price it was moving between 40 and $60, depending on the international experience at the time. You know, when Russia first did that change in their availability, the market moved to $20 in a day. So it gets a bit hard when you’re trying to say, well, what is the exact outcome, in general for the year substantially cheaper than almost any other country other than, say, the US and Canada, Australia in terms of gas pricing. Because most other countries are highly linked, you have a Japanese Korea market, okay, yeah. And you have the TTF, which is the Dutch price for gas, both of those have been elevated in the 60s $70 for Giga Joule equivalents for the entire year. And Australia had 40 for about two to three months, and has had 15-10, 15 for the rest of the period. And long term contracts have been in and around about $12.38, I think was the number that the ACCC reported on so substantially below where the international prices are. Now there are some people who have offered very high prices. But that doesn’t mean that anybody traded there. It’s like going and saying, I asked a hotel. Well, I thought price for a night was and I asked a guy on the street, if I could buy his house, they came in at different prices. You’ve got somebody who doesn’t have any guests available to sell, and you ask them to sell you gas, and they’re going to obviously offer a very high price.
Gene Tunny 17:03
Okay, so I just want to make sure I understand what’s going on. So is it the case that the gas suppliers or the big gas companies, they’re they’re entering into these longer term contracts with their customers, and they’re doing that at a rate that’s much lower than the spot price, because they know that will that spot price is just temporary. That’s what’s going on.
Josh Stabler 17:27
And it’s just for short periods of time that those prices are at that very high levels. So you’re not seeing that pass through that long term contracts unnecessarily getting done at $4. There are, if you go to businesses that do not have any gas, yeah, it’s already in you ask them to give you a price, it’s going to be high. But that, but that post, that business doesn’t end up doing the deal. And that’s what we’re seeing. And when you look at the ACCC report they’ve got the price range was between 10 and 60. But the price ended up being 12. So it’s yes, there are some numbers that look, and they are frightening if you are a customer, looking at the deal like that, and trying to make it work. But most of the ones that were especially the ones that made the media were related to the accident of western energy, which went broke in late May. And the basically, businesses were then going out to so that that retailer had to give their contracts back to the retailers last resort. And that didn’t that those prices were back at the tariff rate. And they were very, very high. So there was some bad media around that. But in general, most customers who have gone to long term, producers have had prices in the order of 10 to $14 a giga Joule right, not on a weighted level. Is it anywhere in the 30s or 40s?
Gene Tunny 18:54
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 19:29
Now back to the show. I’ve got some more questions. But Tim, I should ask if you’ve got any questions for josh.
Tim Hughes 19:36
I know between the three of us we could talk for days. For us and for everyone else who might be listening, we should not. However, so if you did have any more questions with that Gene, what I was going to come to and we might want to move on to this after if you have any questions to finish, but basically, because we’re in this fascinating point in our history of our time with emerging energy markets to clean and green options that are coming, the opportunity or the challenge to get to net-zero. So that’s what I’d like to put forward for the next part of it. So if you’ve got anything to add from what we will do that first.
Gene Tunny 20:18
I might just ask you about the risk of what happened earlier this year, happening again, it sounded like that there were some specific circumstances the fact that there wasn’t this maintenance going on, in their catching up with maintenance, does that mean, we won’t see another repeat of what happened earlier this year?
Josh Stabler 20:42
Okay, so, I guess, there’s two parts to that we have the problems that we know that are deterministically at fault. Yeah, which is that we know that there is some coal supplies that are low, some of the local mines at say Mt piper, in near Newcastle, have reaching end of life, and they will need to get coal from train links. And the train links have a limitation in terms of the delivery. So we know there are some facilities that will be energy limited by the fact that their suppliers are constrained. That’s the deterministic issue. On the probabilistic issue, we had outage rates of three times what we anticipated during May and June periods. That of those were random events. So they weren’t failure, reliability failure, they are a probabilistic event, they there is a chance that those numbers could come back, there’s chance those those things, as we are getting closer and closer to the end of life are these assets that are less likely to spend the money to go and fix the power station to be ready. Because they don’t, they won’t recover the profitability. And that’s that there is so if you’re only going to survive five years, and you want to spend $100 million, you need to make an extra $20 million out of that asset every year in order for that to even makes sense. And if your input costs are high, then you won’t go and do that. So that’s why we’re seeing a whole lot of power stations, even in a very high price environment. But it’s also a high cost environment, are worried about what that means for them as they get closer to their end of life. And that leads us to that, I guess, if we can carry on to the next question is what happens in terms of as we get closer to transition. And the complication of transition is that it is by default, disorderly.
Tim Hughes 22:38
So this is transition to new energy sources.
Josh Stabler 22:40
As you transition anything from any old, anything old into anything new, you are going to hit this issue in regard to how you get somebody to give up their space for the next person. Now, if a power station has no goal, no plan for profitability over the next three years, then you would be better off to turn off rather than lose money three years in a row. So that means that you’ve got this, you don’t get an overlap in a transition. Normally, you get old assets who are there will want to exit because they see no path to profitability. But we don’t have a solution yet, because that hasn’t come on yet. So we have a renewable wave and a battery wave, and we have a decline of the coal. And if you don’t act to try and keep them so that they overlap, then there will just be a gap. And if you have a gap, then you’ve got an issue because then the power stations as they become less reliable, will fail. And in fact, when they fail, they will withdraw their capacity from the market, which will cause prices to rise. Making them the reason why the prices are high is because of their failure caused the event. So you actually have to that, and that leads you to part of the policy plan, which is how do you keep something online that doesn’t make money. And that’s where you had starting to talk about capacity markets or anything else to try and social licence. This is why a most said that you’ve got to give three now three and a half years notice before you can exit is because you need to tell them in advance that you’re going to leave. Now the obvious response was origins, which was if I had to tell you three and a half years, I’m just gonna tell you three and a half years and I’m just gonna make a different decision at a later date if I need to. If I get close, and I want to keep it online, well, you didn’t tell me I have to shut and three and a half years. I can just keep it on for another two years with a year’s notice. And I’ll just keep it going. But if I’m forced to make a notice then I’m gonna give it early. And then I’ll update it if I need to.
Gene Tunny 24:48
Yeah, good point. Good point. So amo was the Australian energy market operator. And yeah, it’s interesting. This I mean, I’m, as an economist, I’m rather laissez-faire. I’d prefer to just to rely on market hours, the market as much as possible. But yeah, with energy, you’ve got to take into account the fact that you need to keep the power on you need reliability. So we need, we can’t just rely entirely on the market. And that’s why we’ve got this Australian energy market operator that’s overseeing things and trying to get the right policy setting. So we do have, we don’t end up with unreliable power. And we don’t have to have blackouts in that horror show scenario.
Tim Hughes 25:32
I see. Am I right in? I think it might have been one of your podcasts Josh, or something I read recently, and it was a rant. There, there is gas that is used as a backup currently, for that kind of situation where it is expensive, but it kicks in and that can sort of cover any shortfall. Is that right?
Josh Stabler 25:52
Yeah. And it’s, it’s important to like, when sometimes when you think about what is the what is the idea, you can think globally, you’re like, Okay, well, nuclear is going to work for the world in terms of meaning things because of the problems that some countries have. But Australia has the situation we have, we have a lot of sun, we have a lot of wind, we have a LNG export capability that is delivering gas offshore, all the time. So if we get ourselves into a situation where we are short of wind and short of, of sun, we actually have this enormous amount of gas being delivered, that can be interrupted for a short period of time to deliver that energy back into the grid. And the amount that has been delivered is the equivalent of the entire electricity market. So the four petajoules, that goes off is approximately 100% of the net. So if you actually brought it all down, you could power the whole network if you had enough power stations. But what it does is it provides resilience. Now, not every country has an LNG export option. And it’s not saying that we need to use the gas all the time. In fact, we only want to use it when it’s required, because it’ll probably cost us more to interrupt them. So if we had a commercial arrangement where we could say, give me your gas when we need it, and we’ll pay you some money for it, well, then we almost never have a reliability issue. So long as we can get that gas where it needs to go.
Tim Hughes 27:21
I mean, that would obviously cause some problems with markets. So you’ve got to keep a consistent supply to the current customers overseas, etc. So that might be in a sort of like a short emergency sort of situation.
Josh Stabler 27:33
Yeah, a percent of theirs is a huge amount of gas for the domestic market. So a percent of a day is still 40. It’s like 150 megawatts, 24 hours a day. So it’s 1000 megawatts for six hours, it’s a huge amount of gas that can be moved through into power stations to meet the short term problem.
Tim Hughes 27:55
So with the broader view of where are we going, you know, what’s, what are the options open to us? What are the opportunities for Queensland and Australia in particular, but there was clearly a lot of choices about, you know, renewable energy is obviously growing very quickly. It appears to be green and clean, which I know is a little bit of a side conversation as well. You know, everything has some impact of some sort. But that’s the direction we’re heading. Net-zero is the term that we are all familiar with, that covers it all as in like, whatever we’re going to be doing, it’s not going to be harming the planet. That’s pretty much what the goal is. And so we’re in this transitional period that we’re entering now. So from gas and coal in towards these different areas, and like you say, gas may form a part of the contingency or the emergency supply. So we’ve got renewables, we’ve got wind, we’ve got solar, waves, hydro, all these different things, in your opinion, and your experience. What are your views on these new available sources of energy?
Josh Stabler 29:04
So if we separate it into two parts, one is can we get the electricity grid towards a greener environment? Yeah, we have moved a lot further than most people think. So when we signed the Paris accord in April 2016, so six years ago, six and a half years ago, we had an a carbon emissions for the electricity grid of 171 million tonnes per annum, 171. And this year to a couple of days ago, we were just below 120 million tonnes. So we have reduced our carbon emissions and our electricity grid by 40%. In six years.
Gene Tunny 29:41
Are we talking about Australia or Queensland? Australia?
Josh Stabler 29:45
Australia wide and so in the last couple of days, this is the gold period of the year is the golden period for renewables. It has great sun, no much demand, fair bit of wind. We are sitting in Most days at about 65% renewables during the day, and about 25 to 30% renewables every night.
Tim Hughes 30:06
So that 40%, so 40% reduction in six years. Yep. And that’s purely attributable to these renewable energy sources.
Josh Stabler 30:16
Yeah, it’s basically a one for one reduction increase in renewables, one for one reduction in brown coal fired power stations. So that was it, certainly for the first like four years, and then it’s progressively eaten out some of the black coal, that appears to be really first it’s very, very fast, quite a lot. We’re moving 10 million tonnes per annum reduction. That’s on the electricity side. And we are now we’ve now you know, we’ve got days when we’re more than 50% reduction in terms of our carbon emissions, which is, which is great. That’s really, really wonderful. The problem is, is that it’s not the only thing that our requirements our Paris Accord is not electricity market requirements, it is an economy wide, starts getting a little bit confusing, which is that you cannot use renewable solar panels to meet our agricultural emissions requirements or our industrial requirements. But there are still good news stories in it. As we bring in electric vehicles, we move away from inefficient oil to efficient electricity. And as our carbon emission of our electricity grid becomes cleaner and cleaner, it has a multiplicative effect. Now, five years ago, because the ratios change every year, five years ago, the ratio was 36% was our electricity, and 18% was out was transportation. Now, this is where I’ll jump into some of the numbers for this so EVs, we have 15 million cars on the road. Each EV is at two kilowatt hours, if you had them as a Tesla mum, Tesla Model three, just as far as an example, which makes it 1200 gigawatt hours worth of storage, which is about the equivalent of 250 Wivenhoe, and why Wivenhoe is able to support about 1000 megawatts worth of renewables.
Gene Tunny 32:03
So that’s if everyone in Australia had an EV. If we replaced all the cars, on the road with EVs, we would have how many Wivenhoe dams?
Josh Stabler 32:12
250 Wivenhoe’s in storages which can do 1000 megawatts, which makes it 250,000 megawatts worth of hydro of renewables, which is more than we use switches will far more than we use. So we actually only need about 15% of the equivalent of cars moving down in order for us to have a situation where we have enough storage from cars. But cars don’t plug into the grid every night, we need to have them absorb them the right time, there’s a whole lot of, you know, complications that come around that plan. But it’s just a point of what is an opportunity available to us, we have so much storage there that would need to be replaced. Because at the moment, we have all these cars with their engines, and all they do is drive people. Whereas if we had them being engines that were able to be electricity driven as well, they would have a they would have a role in this market. Now, that is a wonderful vision for 2040. Okay, but as a idea of the same problem they have with any bridge, if you start a bridge at one side and start on this side, you’ve got to make sure they meet in the middle, you can’t just have a dream of where you want to be in 2040 and go off and just hope it’s gonna work out. You have to aim the bridges at each other. And that’s where it gets complicated, is how do you transition across. And right now our danger, is it we’ve seen what happens when things don’t go right, and it’s unpalatable. It is politically unpalatable. Electricity is not run by the governments anymore. But it’s politically considered to be run by the governments. So having it move fast is something that people can not accept, that it’s not politically acceptable. So therefore, if you have these another event like this, then people will start giving up on wanting to transition because I think that that is the reason why it’s happening now. Is that the reason? Well, there’s it’s far too it’s not you can’t point to one thing and say there’s definitely been fault on multiple sides of the fence here because renewables have made coal, not make money which has made them unreliable and made them unreliable before they have to exit and renewables are not ready to take over the role yet because they haven’t got the cost structures in order to do it. So we’ve we’ve got one abdicating the role and the other one, a child who can’t take over it.
Tim Hughes 34:34
So what’s your feeling on that? Josh? Like? Because I mean, is it just the transition is happening too fast? Or is it? Are there other things that we need to consider?
Josh Stabler 34:42
We’ve we’ve, we have a known urgency. So we have a known urgency that we need to get rid of carbon out of the atmosphere because it is causing. It is causing issues in regard to climate change, our ability to shift that rapidly, may be outside of our Economic grasp. That’s the danger.
Gene Tunny 35:02
Okay, that’s a good point. I think I know what you mean. But what do you mean by economic grasp?
Josh Stabler 35:08
Exactly. So it’s the cost of solar falls 36% for the doubling of capacity. So if you wait until you’ve doubled the amount of capacity in the world, you get at 36%, cheaper, wait for your next installation. So that part of the deflationary learning curve that we have, right, so you are highly motivated not to invest now, right and wait for it to be cheaper, and then be beat everybody on the lower cost structure. All other things being equal, not all other things are equal, because initially, you have high income for being in a scarce market. So the initial investments of PV got paid 42 cents a kilowatt. And there was a really good incentive for those first people to invest in solar while it was expensive. Yeah, but eventually, you’ve got to compete in is this worthwhile in the long term. And that same applies to batteries, batteries are falling very rapidly. And if you invest, now, your income stream is high, but your costs are high. And eventually, if you don’t get the right deal in place now, then eventually, someone’s going to come along and eat your lunch. And that gets harder, because you’ve and that’s what does that lead to? It leads to, if you accelerate the process, it will cost money. Is that an unpalatable level of money? I don’t, I haven’t clearly worked out, it’s got better, if we had accelerated faster, five years ago, we would be a very expensive system. But we are accelerating now and batteries are coming on. And they are likely to have a heavy impact because we are having a under normal circumstances a very negative during the day price and a high evening peak, which gives a very large arbitrage, temporal arbitrage, buy low sell high. And therefore people are incentivized to put in batteries to meet that obligation. But as you bring on more batteries, that arbitrage shrinks, lowering your income. So therefore, you need to win on costs at that point, because the revenue numbers will start to decline. So it’s just a it’s a there are you know, there are assets that are getting built now that will make money. But if we built all the assets now at this cost, we will just have a high-cost system,
Gene Tunny 37:18
Right. Okay, yeah, good point.
Josh Stabler 37:21
And eventually that comes back because the customer the godly truths of our market is as the customer pays for everything. Yeah, everything has to be extracted from the end user.
Gene Tunny 37:31
Right. Okay. And what do you think about what the state governments here is proposing with? They’re looking at pumped hydro, aren’t they?
Josh Stabler 37:40
They are. So there’s some very, very large pumped storage hydro that they’re talking about. It’s gonna take a long time to get into the market. Yeah. pumped hydro is so when we’re talking about how solar drops in price, as we instal more pumped storage hydro increases every year, because it’s the civil project. It’s not getting smarter technology, its its its potential energy, gravity and height. That’s that maths still the same from 1950s, as it is, now it’s, we probably gained a couple of percents in efficiency. So we are we are getting more expensive, which is a problem, which is why the state’s doing it. Because the state can afford to do something like that, that has an 80 year life and take on that level of risk. Because the of the there are two outcomes, either it was not needed, and everything’s fine. And they’re happy with that, or it was needed, and they helped make it better. And they’re happy with that, as opposed to a private company, which would be unhappy with a scenario where they were unneeded. So iIt’s not that it’s warped. It’s just that they have greater vision in terms of what what is important to them compared to a private in private industry.
Gene Tunny 38:55
I liked the point you made about EVs and in just how many Wivenhoe dams the EVS could represent if Wivenhoe, Wivenhoe is not Hydro Electric is it?
Josh Stabler 39:06
It’s a pump storage. So it is a small drive to a big lake, okay, and it’s called split Creek. So it has the ability to move water up and down from the so an actual slide on the dam is not good for the power station, unfortunately. But it has about 20,000 mega litres of water. So it’s got a large area that it can fill. Yeah, this gives a you know, having all of those batteries gives a incredible capability to meet the rearrangement of data nine, right, we probably have too much, which means that we will, we’ll probably get to a situation where not everybody has to do it. Because we’ve got we’re going to have all these batteries and all these cars and we’re not expecting everybody to be doing this every night. We don’t expect you to get because the other problem is is that you have to fill during the day and then empty when you get home and your rooftop PV is on your roof and you’re not at home because you drove your car away. So if we’re imagining in 2040, we have an answer to that, which is when the car drops you off, it goes home again, because there’s an automated car, and it returns to the base and fills up. And then it comes and picks you up in the afternoon in the process, it’s filled. And when it arrives, it pumps power into the grid, and keeps everything’s sorted. Because it’s moving energy around, not just passengers.
Tim Hughes 40:24
I see this feeds into an area, which I think is really interesting, because the technology is moving so quickly. Yeah. Is that then a hindrance to adopting new technology because you know, you’re investing in infrastructure that all of a sudden becomes, you know, it gets superseded by the next shiny thing.
Josh Stabler 40:40
Oh yeah, especially big costs, like a great example is distribution networks, you’ve got these power grids, or these power lines, they are long, long, long life assets. But if you’ve got power that’s moving by car, you don’t need the distribution network anymore. You got this. So which leads you to the threat, which is known as a death spiral, which is that you have a large cost, but by structure, and you’re smearing it over customers that are getting smaller, which means that you need to charge them more. So eventually, we’re in a position where my, my mom needs to pay $250 million a year in order to keep everything on track. So because you know, it’s the last people obviously, regressive, the people with the most money exit first, and the people the least money exit last. And that means that you’re smearing more and more customers, people who can’t afford it. But that just leads you and that could be where we’re at, we could have some of these assets that are built that are a little bit stranded. But again, you know, some of these things need to get done. In order for us to get there,
Tim Hughes 41:41
You end up with a drawer full of Betamax videos and CDs.
Gene Tunny 41:46
This is fascinating. I’ve never, I hadn’t thought of that before. But if I’m interpreting what you’re saying correctly, we’ve got a car that drives us to work, it’s all automatic. And then it drops us off, and it goes home. So we have all these empty cars travelling on the roads to go home, so that they home when the solar PV is collecting the energy, and they’re storing it.
Josh Stabler 42:12
Yeah. Do you want to make it’s really crazy? They may not go back to your house.
Tim Hughes 42:15
I was gonna, I was going to say they go to the closest available home. Yes, you know, but the thing is also like so this, I mean, we’re getting into the speculative nature of this.
Gene Tunny 42:27
Imagine the IT or the AI that you need to organise all of it.
Tim Hughes 42:31
That is an exercise in efficiency. Yeah,
Josh Stabler 42:34
well, that’s, that’s the classic, I’m travelling salesman issue. So you got to got all these ones that you need to move on. Because once they select does, it does the first person who gets to choose it, because I’ll just choose the one next door for the next 17 years right now. So that it doesn’t every time. But you need to make sure that that is an equitable sort of delivery of energy. And when we get to that state, then, you know, if you’ve got this demand that can be moved, and can be selected as selective and discretionary in its consumption, then we can just keep on installing more solar, because it will find a find somebody who wants to buy because the power all the cars will come and fill it up. Which leads us then to a problem, which is what have we just built the world’s most expensive way of doing that. Because most of our energy that we need to have, we need to move from the middle of the day to the evening. If I put power into a car, I can come back 100 days later, and it’s still at 99%. So long as you don’t put on a sentry mode, then it will consume it all. But you got to you’ve got to technology, a wonderful technology that is able to keep this energy for long periods of time. But in fact, we don’t need wonderful technology, we need terrible technology that is highly inefficient. That just does it for nothing between the middle of the day and evening peak. And then we can just keep on plunking down more and more solar, because it’s going to solve the more and more expensive evening peak with gas issues or any other thing else or its competition is expensive other vehicles or other batteries. And you’re just trying to undercut them by buying for nothing and selling for anything.
Tim Hughes 44:11
So becomes a market sort of battleground if you like,
Josh Stabler 44:15
Well, I think we’ve over engineered the solution. We’ve there’s probably a much cheaper, easier, stupid engineering solution.
Gene Tunny 44:22
So what and what is that job?
Josh Stabler 44:23
One example would be let’s freeze ice and your roof and make your house cooled down when it does that. Now that one’s I’ve already been asked somebody I think it’s been debunked, but there are answers, which are to do with most of our most complicated times like today. We’re 37 degrees too hot and what we need to do is just move these copious amounts of sun because it’s hot, and it’s bright into the evening and just make cold and if we make it cold if you make the house cold, like in Germany, you have pipes throughout the house and you just heat up that and that hits that water heating keeps the house warm. Same thing We just need to know, is that economically viable? Do you need to go to every single house and water? You know, there are, these things start getting highly complicated when you start thinking about all the engineering and and there’s just a point of, we kind of don’t know what we are going to have. I can think of 25 ideas today on what could possibly happen. And none of them will be right in comparison to what we’re going to do. 20 years time is a long, long time, in a world where people are incentivized to reduce their costs, where something starts causing, you know, the old adage, high prices as a cure for high prices. Because when it starts getting up, people start finding different answers, they find, oh, I don’t need to use that much electricity, I can lower my consumption, I can make these changes. And once you start having those drives, correct drivers people follow, follow the economic behaviour, we, we underestimate our citizens. And that’s why we make our electricity tariffs so simple, in terms of the way that they’re done, the billings insane. But the actual methodology is very, is too simple. It’s, you have a flat price from 7am till 10pm at night, even though that you don’t consume that way anymore, because most people have solar, which means you don’t consume during the day, and then you consume a lot during evening. So we actually need more definition that will drive behaviour, if you were aware that these things were driving you and changing your behaviour, then you would do things slightly different. Anyway, that was it’s a nice little.
Tim Hughes 46:29
It is interesting, because, again, it’s an it’s a question of efficiency. Yeah. And yeah, and householders are interested in efficiency, especially when it’s gonna save them money, especially when it’s gonna save them money. I did have another thing I wanted to pop in there, because I don’t want to make it too speculative. Because I mean, it is fascinating. But solid state battery technology has been mentioned by a mutual friend of ours who John Atkins, who was on a previous show, previous episode. And he had come across this technology, I think Toyota are one of the leaders with this new battery technology, which ultimately could have the potential to charge your house. So it’s not just running the car, you can then plug it back into your house, and it can run the house in the evening. So one of the main areas of concern if you like, at the moment, obviously, it’s you can’t take a punt on future technology that’s not here, we have to go with what’s here. But this must be also a concern for not a concern. But like, governments aren’t always going to be the first to adopt this new technology. But it must make it harder for them to commit to putting infrastructure in for a technology that they think could be redundant fairly soon.
Josh Stabler 47:42
Yeah, and that’s where, you know, a lot of the res idea is that we’ve we have this expectation that we’re going to need large scale wind and solar, out in the out in the regions, that’s going to bring all the power in and that and therefore that’s where the energy is going to come from. And the biggest error in any of the forecasting for the last 20 years of electricity has been the forecast of rooftop solar, every one of them is like this year, it’s gonna be the same as next year quadruples. This year, it’s gonna be the same instead of quadruples, there’s just been this constant misunderstanding of how quickly people were going to invest in it. And they’ve and the and the forecasts have been just horrendously wrong. And now, rooftop solar as a market share is one of the biggest in the net, it is got a now a major part of the electricity grid is what happens from rooftops. And that is driven by mums and dads.
Tim Hughes 48:40
The market is driving this as we’ve had conversations with quite a few different people. And the common thread is that the market is driving these changes.
Josh Stabler 48:48
It is but do you get to talk? Do you get to go into the room and tell people that you’re going to go and do this? Are you going to tell people that you’re putting batteries in, or the big guys can? It’s easy. There’s only like 100 of them, we just go and ask them are you going to go and install batteries and they say sure, I’ve got this big plan to build this big battery out there. And I’m gonna build this wind fine over there. And this is where my solar farm is going to go. And they can tell the people who are going to make those plans. What it is, they didn’t go and interview 15 million households to find out who’s going to invest in batteries. So there’s a level of a lack of advocation on behalf of those customers on behalf of mums and dads in terms of what they’re going to do. They also don’t really get paid for it. Because when they installed batteries, they lowered the consumption during the middle of the day. For the first 10-15 years of this market. The middle of the day was the most dangerous part. It was the most worrying section was what’s going to happen at the hottest point of the day, two o’clock in the day. It’s the highest demand we have the hottest weather and the electricity grid starts failing power lines can’t move anything. And then we don’t have that problem. Because rooftop solar has completely carved out the amount of demand we have at what used to be the most threatening. Now we’ve built, the whole market has built all sorts of power lines, and extra things that need to handle hot weather to move really long, lots of power at certain points in time, that are completely unused now, because that requirement doesn’t exist. And then when we start thinking about what’s going to happen with people, when they put vehicle to grid, and they can move their own power between themselves, Well, no one’s getting asked. So we don’t know what they’re going to do. So there’s like a just an unknown when that starts happening. And what I suspect is going to happen is that eventually, a, someone like probably Macquarie Bank, because they’re the kind of people who would do it, which is they’ll work out that if they install a battery on your home loan, you are now better, you are now a better creditworthy person, because your costs have just gone down, so they can offer you a better deal. And at that point, it all starts changing when you can just put on your home loan.
Gene Tunny 50:49
Right? So you can buy a Tesla Powerwall.
Josh Stabler 50:52
Put it on your home, you are now you are now considered a bit less of a threat, because you don’t have an electricity bill anymore. So at that point, they’re like, oh, okay, well, yeah, you deserve to be I can, I loan you money if you know, whatever percentage lowest because I think that you’re in a better, better position. And you can put that money on to your on your home loan, and we’re going to accept that. And that’s all fine, because we consider this an investment, not a bad, not a negative decision. Once that starts happening, things start moving quickly. Once debt gets involved, the world moves changes very fast.
Tim Hughes 51:24
Yeah. And that technology is obviously good for a considerable time to come. Solar seems to be working really well, that 40% drop in six years that you mentioned down to renewables. Great news. Yep.
Gene Tunny 51:39
Yeah. Okay, so, Tim, I think we suspected we, we might be picking Josh’s brain a lot, we’d go on quite a while. So we’re at 50 minutes, I’ve got a few questions I want to make sure we get answered before we wrap up. So if I try and wrap up for the next 10 minutes or so. Okay, so first, what about nuclear or hydrogen? How much potential do they have in the future electricity grid?
Josh Stabler 52:07
In the world nukes have a very big role, in Australia. I think that that the moment, most of the discussion that is around nukes is probably not in good faith. It’s more in a let’s stop doing things and wait for this new technology. And then our didn’t work out? Well, you might as well stay with coal. I don’t feel like the discussion is necessarily in a in a with completely good faith. Your issue with nukes, which is the same ones that you have with coal is that you can’t get cheaper than solar in the middle of the day, when it’s delivered to your house on your roof. It is cutting through transmission distribution directly into the source of where the demand is, which means that is impossible to get cheaper. So that means that nukes will never be able to run 100% capacity factor, because they will be carved out by the six hours of sun every day, which means that their capacity factors will be lower, which means that their very, very high capital costs will have to be smeared over a smaller volume making their costs, every estimate of costs will be based on 100% capacity factor. That’s all impossible, which means that everything’s going to be more expensive than you anticipated, unless they plan on turning off solar. So they need to get rid of a better solution to make this other one work. So I just don’t see it really working on hydrogen. I am the biggest issue with hydrogen is economics. And it is an inefficient process to produce energy that can be moved. Now, if we have infinite free energy in the middle of the day, because we have so much solar, then having something that costs nothing to put into this energy. So if it’s inefficient, inefficiency doesn’t matter when it doesn’t cost you anything. Zero times by an efficiency of 30% is still $0. So so long as you can get to a point where there’s basic never ending spilling of the load of the solar that it would do nothing, it would literally be turned down and dig and shorted, then you’ve got something that can make sense there. Because then you can just the inefficiency doesn’t matter. So that’s what I was talking about before we you know, we have what is our engineering solution? I mean, that one there is a horrendously inefficient way of getting energy. I don’t know you might fit the bill. I it just doesn’t fit the bill now. Yeah, because the cost structures are $2 or $2 a kilo. That’s $15. If you could do, we’re not doing anything at $2 a kilogramme. Right now we’re doing things at six and sevens. We’re talking 80s and $90. A Giga Joule, you know, we’re having conniptions right now, because the gas prices are above $12. We, we can’t expect to move from something where the world goes in goes into crisis mode at the best possible price point of the future. Like that’s there’s there’s a there’s an issue there. So we’ve got to work out how we’re going to bring the capital cost down and then the marginal cost down so that the the dollars per kilogramme that was a giga Joule for hydrogen falls. But even with all of that, I don’t see how it beats EVs, like, how does it be just putting the power directly from the roof into your car? Like why introduced another thing between an inefficient thing in between there. So if you lose that market, you don’t have EVs are okay, maybe you’re going to get car trucks, because they might need the energy, well, there’s probably better answers to that one as well, why not just have replaceable batteries in your truck, because then you can just take it out, and then you don’t have the energy problem, you can just put a new one in moving energy to other countries so that they can use it that very much relies on the demand, wanting to pay more for it. We’re not, we’re not in charge of that. Japan’s in charge of that. And Toyota most recently, sort of can’t there or not can but they’ve di D prioritise their hydrogen cars, which is not necessarily a great sign for where that’s going. But there are other things green, green steel, you know, there’s always other things, there’s always other things that use hydrogen and making that green. Sure, that doesn’t seem to that seems like a great direction, because you need to build it anyway. Need to get the hydrogen somehow anyway. And your choices are using natural gas or using clean options. If your carbon has got a price on it, then you will end up with a clean one. Without a price. You need regulation to say you can’t do it that way in order for it to hurt. So that’s, that’s my concern is just it’s just economics. That’s that that’s worries me there. I just needs to get the economics. You know, the numbers are so big that it needs to be like have like, eight times. And things can get hacked. It’s easy, you do a lot of economies of scale, and suddenly you find something that’s half the price. But doing it eight times feels like a lot of steps that you need to make better.
Gene Tunny 56:54
Yeah, here there,
Josh Stabler 56:55
you know, yes, you can get a couple if anything’s out by four to one. And its initial stages. Yeah, that’s, that won’t take any time to fix. But, you know, 100, to one that starts getting to a point where you’d like we, there’s a lot of things that need to go right together.
Gene Tunny 57:10
Okay, so now some policy questions and probably haven’t left enough time to go through these complex issues. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the you mentioned capacity, capacity markets before paying for capacity. So you talked about the problems that nuclear and coal, they can’t compete with solar during the middle of the day? Should we be paying to the generators, the fossil fuel generators, or if it’s nuclear, paying them to make sure that they’re online, that they stay in the market, that they’re available? If we need them? Is there a need for some payment like that? So that’s one policy question. The other big policy question at the moment is regarding the and the one of the challenges we’ve got, as this episode will be released after the national Cabinet meeting that we’re having this week to decide on whether we have a cap on coal prices, whether we have a cat isn’t it is proposing a cap on gas prices and also a domestic domestic gas reservation policy. What are your thoughts on all of those,
Josh Stabler 58:10
please start on the gas cap one and then go back to the GST. So the gas coal caps, your biggest issue with any type of so let me start with gas gas one because and they’re all good, we got analogue across to call it the gas, the problem with the gas market cap is that you need to you are having a broad based market response to try and solve what is not a broad based problem. So your businesses a an example a coal mine does not need cheap electricity, because it is making more money than it knows what to do with. So charging it more for charging it an appropriate price for electricity, based on its cost structures end up its revenue stream is part of the reason why cost structures are so high, which is why electricity is high. So if you give them a discount on their electricity, then they’re just making more money. If you are a services business, I’m sure electricity doesn’t even make it or a percentage number in terms of a normal business or normal professional services business. So increasing the cost of electricity doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t materially change your market, your value of your business. It doesn’t materially change whether or not you’re viable. However, there are businesses that where there is a clear difference, which is if you are a domestically focused manufacturer, and you have a implication of high absolute prices will cause you to pass on high absolute prices to the domestic market that has an inflationary impact, and therefore it needs to that has a legitimate claim to being fixed and to being resolved. Your other group is that mums and dads have paid two points to Extra 2.9% of the total costs for the last 40 years on electricity might be slightly higher right now, but the number is about the same all the time. It’s also not a lot with it, our cost of living has increased remarkably much this year, because of interest rates, not because of electricity. So we’ve had a massive increase in terms of people’s livelihood costs, because of because of the interest rates. And electricity is like a thing that is annoying because it’s on top of so. So for depending on which sector of the market, if you are a low income earner, then that 2.6 is not 2.6 is probably four or five, because your consumption doesn’t really change that much based on your, you know, your your money, you still have to do all these things to keep the lights on and to consume. And therefore that becomes a regret your recess, regressive sort of threats. So you need to manage low income, and you need to manage domestically focused manufacturers or consumers, energy intensive consumers, if you are the rest, which is a lot of the energy consumption, aluminium spouses, you know, your fertilised and everybody else, they are competing internationally, and they are competing in a high market international price. And therefore, their prices they’re passing on, I’m not even going to Australians, they’re going out into the world. And the most of us not even coming back to Australia anyway. So what that doesn’t, so doing a broad based outcome for that kind of doesn’t really fit the bill. So I think that’s where the problem is. Now when you take a look at coal, coal really only has one market in in Australia, which is thermal electricity, our, our meteorological metrological cold, there was stuff that’s used for coking coal, we don’t, we don’t make steel in Australia anyway. So all that stuff is going off to China where the iron ore, it’s getting turned into steel. So there is the implications on the coal market are purely on the electricity space, so long as you can still get the energy. Our problem in winter was not because coal prices were high is because the coal generators were offline. And the ones that were online had limited coal supplies, and you couldn’t give them more coal, because they’re not next to the coal mine. The ones in New South Wales are off the spur of Newcastle and you need to drive the train through a major city to get it to a power station. And you can’t deliver any more to that power station. So you get physical limitations. And just simply saying, your price of your coal is cheaper, doesn’t make them have better power stations, or find more coal, they are just limited by their energy. And that makes it a that that’s an that could return next year, we could have kept on the market, low coal prices, and no energy. And therefore prices are high, because we’re not actually keeping anything that fundamentally keeps the market under control. So our threats right now are not only input, the problem that I find is that everybody said the market is going up because of Ukraine, which makes it feel like it’s an external thing. And all we have to do is disconnect ourselves from there, and it’s all fine. But we aren’t we aren’t actually we’re not we’re in we’re in our own scarcity issue domestically, at the same time as the scarcity issue internationally. And when it goes bad, it joins the international market, which makes it feel like it’s all related. But it’s actually just joining whether they’re in a bad place, and we’re in a bad place. And unless we see some sharp increase in availability, then we don’t, we may just have the same problems again. So that’s, and that leads us to our other question, which is what do you do about capacity markets? How do you make a power station that is unreliable, more reliable? One way, definitely making sure it goes to be less reliable, is to not spend any money on maintenance, so that it will turn off. So if you are thinking that your power station has two years left to live, you’re not going to spend any money on your maintenance, just like you don’t spend money on that car, a clunker that’s about to break down, you don’t go and send it in for a service. When it breaks down, you leave on the side of the road and get someone to deliver it to their records. That’s the problem we’ve got with the power stations as we’re getting to the record stage. When they break, like realistically This is at the point in their life where they might have four units, one breaks, it becomes parts, it doesn’t get turned back into service, it just left to make sure the other ones survived through to the end. Right. So that’s where your capacity might do is it might give you an incentive to stay around for a longer period. Yeah. Which gives you the money to be able to do that to spend on the maintenance so that you can have an asset that will be able to survive until you’re no longer required.
Gene Tunny 1:04:50
Yeah, so we’ve been talking about this for for years now. Do we know if we’re gonna get one capacity? Okay.
Josh Stabler 1:04:57
I think now that we’ve got So many power stations planning on exiting over the next X number of years. It’s also about with we’ve rapidly changed our expectations. Yeah, even just two years ago, we were in a position where coals wood, coal was cheap. There was coal mines were losing money on what they were delivering in. So they stopped slowly stopped there, the supply, you had power stations that weren’t making money, because they were they weren’t, the electricity prices were so low, you know, we’ve, we have gone from $30 a megawatt hour to $300 a megawatt hour in two years. Like it’s such a variation in terms of the outcomes, it’s so quick that nobody has in a market that that builds its world over 10 years, you can’t respond in two. And, and that’s just where we’re, you know, when we’re, you know, we go into a price cap on gas on coal, it doesn’t fundamentally make doesn’t change the engineering just changes the economics. And then the hope is that the economics works. Because if, if you’re saying that’s the next year, anybody who sells coal only gets a lower price, then you just hold and you own it, and you have a stockpile of coal, well, then you just wait to the year after and some of the higher price economic theory is you just waiting there. Or if you can deliver to a boat and sell into $500 a time overseas, then you definitely do that. So you’re definitely getting this position where if you deflate the domestic one, you also need to motivate them to continue to supply because otherwise, you’ve just given them the exact opposite, which they don’t supply, because no one’s going to pay you anything that’s worth anything.
Gene Tunny 1:06:35
Yeah, well, I mean, is that what we’re going to end up with? If there’s a domestic gas reservation policy, where we say that you’ve got to supply this amount of gas to the domestic market at this price, I mean, is that where we’re heading,
Josh Stabler 1:06:49
it does appear that that’s where the direction they’re going. It it. The problem also applies to where that supply is coming from Australia is a lot the tyranny of distance. We with this usually said in the fact that it takes a long way to deliver things from Australia to other countries. But the tyranny of distance also works for our large country to deliver gas from Dolby to Moomba, to young to Melbourne is 2800 kilometres, yeah, which is the same distance as Edinburgh to Turkey. Yeah. So it’s very long distance in terms of of how far you have to deliver, which means that we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to be able to deliver all the guests that’s required in the south via the infrastructure that we have we we have limitations on that, which means that we need to build up our, our storage in the south ahead of winter so that we can actually deliver it. Now if there’s a cap on the market. And it costs you $12 To buy gas, and it cost you money to put into storage so that you can take it out and get paid $12 What was the financial incentive there? So your cost $12? And then you get paid 12? So what are the $2? Or you just lost that? Okay, well, once if I deliver it from Queensland, where you buy it at two or $5, you’d paid $3 to deliver it down, and then you can sell it for $12. So you’re taking a financial hit there as well. So you, it’s not just so simple as to say that everything’s the same, because then you’ve got no incentive to do anything. If you’ve got gas in Queensland, and you’ve got no reason to move it to another region, other than regulation, that you must deliver excess capacity. It’s just this is when you start delving into how you want things to work. It’s the the problem with putting a cap in is you lose merit, or you lose who deserves to get the gas, who’s willing to pay more who’s willing, or has a higher need for that. So they can actually meet that meet their requirements. Because you don’t have the merit order, you then don’t have the volumetric assessment. So if I was somebody there, I’m just going to say, Can I have a billion petajoules of gas. And if we prorate or down, I’ll have 99.9% of it all, because I asked for the most amount, because there’s no difference between my $12 and your $12. Let’s just split it, split it down the middle of who bet in a billion versus one. I’ll have my billion and you can have your lunch. So it’s it just your problem. You’ve it’s there’s a lot of unintended consequences that need to be managed there. And it’s it’s difficult. It seems simple, but it’s difficult.
Tim Hughes 1:09:33
Yeah. Does that fall into the category of the infrastructure needed for that particular energy source? So for instance, you know, it’s obviously going to be expensive to deliver that, that amount of gas. One of the things I was going to say it was like clearly, not clearly, but it would appear that a diverse array of energy sources would be a wise thing to do. So we now have all of our eggs in one basket Solar has its limitations. Wind has its limitations, etc. Coal has its limitation has its limitations and gas has its limitations as you were saying there’s so like, a sort of array of all of these solutions that would get us towards Net Zero. Yep. would seem like a good idea. So hydro might be a good part of that.
Josh Stabler 1:10:21
Or we should definitely have every single piece of the puzzle that we can get, then the question I think has been slipping in regarding the Niccolo answer. The problem with the nuclear answer is there’s no way we’re getting a nuclear facility in, in Australia. 15 years. Yeah. So even even, you know, we can even have the conversation just so long as the conversation isn’t, we should spend more time talking about Nikola the, the the reality is, if somebody wants to go and do that, yeah, change the law, and then have somebody go and pay the money and spend the 15 years getting it organised. Talking about it now, and with it never been within, you know, not five election cycles away. That’s, that’s, that’s a long, long time. Now, and I guess that also leads to how quickly things have changed away from what we expected, our expectation of gas was that it was going to do nothing anymore, we were just going to have a little bit in Victoria, it’s expected to continue to decline every year, the gas storage two years ago, almost did nothing. The amount of gas that we should be expecting, you know, we, we ran near record levels during winter, but we ran an absolute record lows during spring. So that’s, you know, that’s like a 10 to one variation in terms of daily consumption between spring and winter. We’ve got this, it’s, it’s not just that we have a, an, a constant need is this we have this massive variations and our experts, the forecasts, then beforehand, were like, we’ll use 22 petajoules. And we ended up using 100. Like, we’re completely, we’re completely misreading how it’s going to occur, because things happen that we didn’t expect. And those unexpected things relied on certain technologies to solve it. Because you can’t ask solar to be brighter. You can’t ask wind to get more wind it, it can do everything it does, which it what it does, it does, it runs as hard as it possibly can. The problem with that part as possibly can is, is you can’t go more and go less solar conquer more can only carry less. Gas is already less, and it can do more. But our complication of that is that ends up costing money. Now that might be the cheapest money we could spent. Like that might have cost us a lot of money. And we managed to have no shortfalls. And we managed to keep society going on. And we had no other issues other than a whole lot of political noise around the outside of it. But in reality, we only had a small, very small marginal change in terms of people’s bills. And everything’s, you know, some people are bad, but you know, in general, we have worked our way through it. That cost us money. Yeah, could have been the cheapest option we had available, probably was the cheapest option we had available.
Gene Tunny 1:12:56
Right? I think we might have to.
Tim Hughes 1:12:59
It’s quite an it’s so good hearing your insights and your your from your experience, Josh. And, you know, we could go on and on.
Gene Tunny 1:13:11
I think we’ll have to have you back on again, Josh, because I need to digest. Yeah, this episode. And what’s what’s been said here, because there’s a lot of, there are many things to think about. And I mean, I’m starting to think oh, yeah, I mean, there could be some things that are really positive and make it easy. But then there are other things that are big challenges. And, and you mentioned how this is all uncoordinated. And yeah, I mean, it sounds to me like there’s a risk of some bad outcomes in the next decade or so potentially the non trivial probabilities of, of blackouts. And it just, I mean, I guess we will muddle through somehow. But could could be messy.
Tim Hughes 1:13:54
We seem to be doing remarkably well, like that. The figures you mentioned about reducing 40% In six years is is fantastic. Yep. And I was going to mention, of course, like, there’s a geographical advantage that we have in Australia, for instance, like with solar, like the other parts of the world. Yeah, they would love it doesn’t have, you know, I said so they might have different nuclear might be more viable for certain places, with all its, you know, issues that come with that too. But certainly as technology and this emerging technology, which is coming through very fast, you know, if they can get solar through to be doubly triply 10 times more effective, then it can make it more viable for different parts of the world. So it’s, it’s fascinating, where we’re going and it’s it’s amazing to move so fast. And I guess this transitional period that we’re in is really important that we not trip ourselves up. Yeah, on the way to net zero like, which, of course, you know, who wouldn’t want to be there? I certainly wanted to be there. But we want to get there with the lights on.
Josh Stabler 1:14:59
Yeah, we need to do it. with the least amount of, you know, this is an essential service. Yeah. And it, you know, society doesn’t function if this if this breaks and and transition will lose its lose its losers backing if it can’t keep the lights on. So it’s these are these are important parts. But it’s also I have one last point which is always very difficult to imagine the world different to the one you’re in. So right now we’re in a high market pricing, we’ve got all these danger, we’ve got all these conditions that are that are creating uncertainty where we are, but we have so much, you know, it can change so quickly in this space, we’ll just two years ago, we’re in 1/10 of the price. Yeah. And it can move very quickly against you in or not against you, but in very quickly into a different environment. And it you know, leaps of faith could leaps of technology change, or, you know, we could have, like, everything that’s basically happened in the last couple of years has been supply side failure, it’s just been everything that happened just happened to be on the supply side, we didn’t have a smelter go down. We didn’t have customers do large scale production, because they got their meeting, you know it the spot price was high. But domestically, they’re probably making pretty good positions that are able to pass on these costs. That’s why we’ve got such high inflation, these things are happening, which is allowing people to survive. But if these if we suddenly got lucky on the supply side, and things started getting better, and some things just started getting lucky, you know, we could really move that back away, and then we could leave the international space where it is solve our domestic scarcity issue. And then it won’t be Ukraine that’s holding us up, we were in, we’re in a we can return back to a a more settled environment, which is a little bit like the US us as far as you could your gas, because they are separated for physically separated and the ability to export more is not there. If we suddenly solve some of these problems, we can really pull back, we don’t use other gas for electricity, and that won’t set the price. And therefore we can see it dropping back down if we see some of these problems get resolved. So it’s just a, you know, it’s easy to be stuck in it and to feel the you know, the shadows, the darkness of the shadows in the times when they’re in there. But it’s also you can move past that and you know, we’re definitely at 40% down in emissions, we are on the right path and once we start bringing EVs that’s 54% of the emissions in two sectors, and if we can bring them down to full 4% That’s a long way in terms of where we want to go.
Tim Hughes 1:17:31
Well, I was gonna say I mean, because the way this is driven by the market is, is giving it is decentralising in its effective, like, yeah, if you’ve got rooftop solar, and ultimately you can be self sufficient. The consumers have more autonomy and, and that collectively around the world will make a massive difference. And so it’s, it’s a good direction, it appears, you know, like, I mean, who wouldn’t be happy with that, because you’re not going to have the bigger issues with those outages, you know, it’s going to be more of a localised
Josh Stabler 1:18:04
issue, and a 5% fault is 5% of a million, which makes it 50,000. It’s, it’s not 5% of 20. When you start becoming actually 5% means it’s probably those two, all which is probably the 1% of the time is four off, it’s like when it’s a million, it’s always the same, it’s you know, it’s distributed, the the law of large numbers kicks in, and it’s just 5% Haircut across all the time, on everything, as opposed to occasionally being a very large number, which is what we’ve had very large numbers of times where we’ve had coal fail at the same time as coal fail, same time with gas fail and the, in the in the misalignment of a couple of bad things at the same time, because they’re large, ends up creating large impacts. Lots of little ones and it all disappears.
Gene Tunny 1:18:54
Okay, Josh table, it’s been fascinating. Thanks so much for your time and for your insights have really appreciated that. And once we digest this and think about some more, I’m gonna have to chat with you again, since it’s been terrific. Thank you. Thanks, Josh. Thank you. Okay, so what are the big takeaways from our conversation with Josh? My first takeaway is that the transition to net zero will probably be a bumpy ride. I love the way that Josh described it. To quote Josh, the complication of transition is that it is by default, disorderly. my conversation with Josh confirmed my fear that we could end up with unreliable electricity in coming years. I’m still very concerned, we will have to start expecting the occasional blackout as we bring more renewable energy into the system. My second takeaway from the conversation is that the energy solutions of the future may not be obvious to us at the moment. We need to allow innovation and we need the right incentives in place. EVS could be a big part of the transition path in the conversation with jasha was blown away by the idea of self driving EVs returning home or going to other people’s homes to fill their batteries during the day after they drop us off at work. That’s just incredible. Okay, before I leave, I should note that the Australian Government legislated a highly interventionist energy market package earlier this week, I recorded this conversation with Josh last week when we only had an outline of what could be included in that package. I’ll aim to have a closer look at the specifics of the package in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Okay, that’s the end of this episode of economics explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact at economics explore.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.
Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au.
In Episode 111, Australian Senator Matt Canavan, Australia’s most prominent critic of the Net Zero by 2050 policy to address climate change, speaks with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny about the 2021 UN climate change summit, COP26 (i.e. the 26th Conference of the Parities) and policies to address climate change.
About this episode’s guest – Senator Matt Canavan
Matt Canavan is a Liberal National Party Senator for the state of Queensland, Australia. Matt was first elected at the 2013 Australian federal election for the term beginning 1 July 2014. He was the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia between February 2016 and February 2020. Matt holds the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Economics (Hons.) from the University of Queensland. He has professional experience working as an economist in Australia’s Productivity Commission, and he has also worked as a consultant at KPMG. Matt’s main office is in Rockhampton, in Central Queensland.
Matt spoke with Gene over Zoom while located in his Parliament House office in Canberra, Australia. The conversation was recorded on Friday 22 October 2021.
Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. Check out his Upwork profile.
Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at email@example.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.