The Australian industry will be put at risk unless the federal government’s new energy policy guarantees round-the-clock power at internationally competitive prices, according to the country’s biggest aluminium producer.
Tomago chief executive Matt Howell said renewable forms of energy were unable to deliver reliable and affordable power to energy-intensive users.
“We cannot, in our approach to this transition, lose sight of the fact that there are 24/7 baseload energy customers,” Howell told The Australian newspaper on Friday.
“And we have to make sure our grid can still provide energy to those customers at competitive prices, irrespective of the weather.”
His company, based in the Hunter region of New South Wales, produces 593,000 tonnes of aluminium a year, but a sharp fall in available energy last week caused three potlines at its plant to shut down.
Maintenance work meant coal-fired generation was unavailable and this had coincided with low solar generation and higher-than-usual domestic demand.
Howell said Australia’s overall baseload capacity had been cut, with coal generation replaced by unreliable energy sources that could not be economically bolstered with gas or battery storage.
Battery storage was not viable for big energy users, noting that South Australia’s vaunted solar Tesla battery “would power us for about eight minutes.”
“So, our question is: in the absence of wind and solar and commercial reliable storage for energy-intensive industries, where does the energy come from for industries such as ours that need it every minute of the day? Where does it come from when the intermittent generators are simply not providing?”