By Honorary Professorial Fellow Les Hosking
Everyday there are references in the print, electronic and social media regarding fossil fuels, renewable energy, carbon abatement, climate change, environmental effects, energy prices and the many impacts associated with these important topics. As a very simple overview of the dichotomy of opinions on these issues, there exists a fundamental debate as to why, how, when and at what cost should Australia respond by doing anything, or lead, or follow the world in transitioning from energy sourced from fossil fuel to energy sourced from renewable and sustainable energy sources.
However the general acceptance of emissions reductions bears caveats such as the need for retention of agricultural land, protection of water supply and catchment footprints, minimal economic impact, no reduction in workforce and no disruption to the existing reliable, secure and low cost energy supply.
The significant impacts and risks associated with diverging from the current secure and reliable energy supply model, which has been the cornerstone of Australia’s past economic success, to a new model, should entail considerable detailed modeling and analysis. A vast array of detailed data is available relating to the existing energy supply chain for side by side comparisons with assumptions in data related to any new model.
However, as evidenced by the numerous changes in energy and climate change policy over the last decade or more, legislation and regulation changes have been driven by political opportunism and idealism with scant regard to or total lack of adequate research and analysis leading to stable long term policy.
How otherwise would the original basic concept of transitioning from a predominantly fossil fuel based energy supply chain to the envisaged more sustainable and less emissions intensive energy supply and consumption chain be littered in the ensuing decade by the series of mistakes and errors in assumptions and forecasting of demand, technical capability, environmental impact, community attitude and cost estimates.
The original concept envisaged retiring coal fired generators utilising initially gas generation in transition while building up the renewable energy portfolio. Emissions trading styled market mechanisms and renewable energy targets and subsidies being utilised to assist in the financial management of the conversion.
The situation today discloses that; gas prices have risen too sharply to be used as the transition fuel source – gas production has become an issue due to concerns over CSG extraction – demand has fallen due to high electricity prices arising from increasing network charges, the carbon tax and technology influenced efficiency changes – wind farms are no longer a viable investment due to policy uncertainty – wind farms and utility scale solar are uneconomical due to new transmission costs and environment issues.
In summary, Australia remains unable to resolve the significant challenges in re-‐ engineering its historically efficient, low-cost and reliable energy infrastructure to meet the new energy paradigm ahead, due to ineptitude and inertia in adequate policy development
The new starting point needs to be thorough quality research and analysis, well communicated and understood by politicians and the business and consumer community. From this platform workable, long term stable policy may emerge. The UOW SMART Facility in collaboration with other interested partners can play a significant part in producing the required research and analysis.