Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, believes the country would be better off extending the life of existing coal-fired power plants, rather than investing in clean coal technology.

Finkel says the move would increase Australia’s energy security in an affordable manner.

He authored a report making 50 recommendations to address soaring prices and increased black outs, said building new ultra-super-critical coal plants would take eight years and carry much higher risks for potential investors. But he said the owners of coal fired generators could be encouraged to spend A$600m-$700m on upgrading the plants to extend their life by another 10 years.
Alan Finkel
“Investing in extending the life of existing coal generators is absolutely in line with our recommendations,” he said.

“There is a lot more generation coming into the market, wind and solar, and that’s good, we need more generation … but we also need to ensure that we have got that dispatchibility,” he said.

“That can be provided by batteries but they’ve got limited capacity. It can be provided on a large-scale by pumped hydro but that takes years to build … all of those things take time.”

His comments came as the Australian Energy Market Operators recommended the development of 1000 MW strategic reserve of electricity for South Australia and Victoria as it warns the national electricity market remains vulnerable to climate risk and the loss of output from generation units.

In a report to the Federal Government AEMO there is a “tight” supply-demand balance in the National Electricity Market that means its resilience and responsiveness is at risk.

“Retirement of other coal generation in New South Wales after 2022, if not appropriately replaced by firming capability, could significantly increase the risk of load shedding,” AEMO said in the report — which is designed to assess the risk of blackouts in the coming peak summer demand period.

AEMO said a strategic reserve was needed for SA and Victoria because their ability to obtain long-term reserves was limited.