24 September 2020

Cavemen politics is holding the nation back

| Ian Bushnell
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The sun continues to shine on solar but the latest policy shift from the Morrison Government is casting a shadow. Photo: Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Two big announcements this week from the Federal Government show just how much the nation is paying for a toxic political system that seems incapable of making policy decisions in the national interest or governing in the public good.

After the Black Summer fires and with the west coast of the US ablaze, the government’s latest energy outing or ‘technology roadmap’ suggests that it believes we have all the time in the world to deal with the climate crisis, and while we can edge away from coal, gas will provide a bridge to that fabled zero-emissions future.

That’s locking in the nation to decades of dependence on a fossil fuel that still emits greenhouse gases, and which most of the smart money isn’t interested in investing in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the best brains in the fossil fuel sector working on a post-COVID-19 recovery plan and – guess what? – they came up with a gas-fired solution, as well resurrecting the still unproven carbon capture technology to keep coal in the game.

The government’s green banks – Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – which have been making tidy profits backing solar and wind, can now invest in carbon capture and storage; ‘clean’ hydrogen, although that mainly will be from coal and gas; ‘low carbon’ steel and aluminium; soil carbon; and, thankfully, energy storage.

Solar and wind, which have shrunk power prices, are now proven and no longer deserve support.

One would have thought that their success should have been rewarded with settings to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future, including a carbon price, which did in fact reduce Australia’s emissions.

But no, with the Coalition still in the thrall of the climate change denialists, the government has come up with what it hopes is an acceptable compromise, swapping coal for gas, and leaving the detested renewables to fend for themselves.

Dressing it up as progress, the government is perverting the role of the ARENA and CEFC to focus on rubbing two sticks together instead of charting a path to exploit resources that are easily accessible and free.

Gas is neither, and extraction will be costly both financially and environmentally, relying on methods such as fracking and requiring a massive pipeline network that will eventually need to be decommissioned.

That’s if the assets don’t become stranded along the way.

Those cheap power bills will be as illusory as the hope of storing carbon underground.

What this road map does is retain a business-as-usual approach with a blatant disregard for public money and what the science and nature is screaming at us.

We are almost back to square one again, and looking at decades of wasted opportunities, if indeed the government’s plan comes to pass.

For some it makes no sense to walk away from the stability of coal or gas, and plumb for renewables that they say cannot provide uninterrupted power to homes and industry, even as battery storage is becoming more scalable and less expensive.

But that defeatist approach ignores the realities of global warming and the devastating costs it will impose, and that time is not on our side.

Even Federal Labor, scorched from its last election loss and fighting off its own fossil-fuelled insurgency, has supported a ‘sustainable gas’ industry.

The approach is in stark contrast to the leadership role taken by the ACT Government, which has secured renewable energy supplies, is now investing in battery storage and is committed to decarbonising transport.

Online learning

Studying from home: COVID-19 has shown the value of fast, reliable broadband. Photo: File.

The other big decision from the Hill this week was to drop the ‘tin can’ approach to the NBN and spend billions on fibre optic to extend ultra-fast broadband to millions of households and businesses.

After years and years of denigrating Labor’s plan for universal broadband, adopting a multi-tech approach that retained copper wire to the premises and undermining the very motivation for implementing the network, the Morrison Government has come to its senses after COVID-19 restrictions exposed the NBN for the farce it had become.

With businesses surviving online, telehealth taking off and millions working from home, the value of fast, reliable broadband as something more than just a movie streaming vehicle became starkly apparent.

Still, it’s going to cost many more billions and a few more years to complete when we could have it already fired up.

And even then we will have to pay a premium to get the superfast version, instead of it being a universal service.

Again, years of wasted opportunity and public money.

The nation can’t afford much more of this.

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privatepublic12:26 am 26 Sep 20

Chewbacca is spot on; you are obviously in the industry.

For the kids, a battery and a physically heavy one has just enough power to allow a physical device which may have numerous virtual devices within to undertake an orderly and functional shutdown in a fashion that does not cause any issues when brought back online, if there is no mirror in another DC, worst case.

Renewables and any battery cannot make the cut and probably never will in their current form, in fact just forget and concede to the educated. The swap over in my estimation will be a long time unless this country bites the bullet and gets some nuclear action. Before whinging occurs, Lucas Heights, our main provider of chemo and other nuke drugs has not yet done anything other than operate exceedingly well.

If we were to run the power as some suggest, you will be in a position of not being able to type to a actual blank screen or eat/whinge, if you can still type…..

Tasmania is a good example for the whole power supply, currently using numerous Diesel generators on a permanent basis as the state cannot function without electricity.

This type of attitude is extremely dangerous and should be shut down.

As for the NBN, money does not yet appear to grow on trees. I have used fibre to the node for business in SEA Asia and can get the same speed as my current fibre to the garage. Australia is the “laughingstock”, get over it, when working and living overseas almost nobody takes note of anything Australia does, for the exception of numerous countries think we make exceptional products!!!!

Capital Retro11:07 am 25 Sep 20

There is no point in planning for a zero emission future while China is able to pollute without limitation.

This article just shows an ignorance of the complexities that comes with these issues.

On the energy issue, despite the author’s claims, firmed renewables will still take a significant amount of time to be able to provide the level of energy gereration and security we need.

“instead of charting a path to exploit resources that are easily accessible and free.”

No power source is “accessible and free” and battery storages are still far too expensive for the gaps that we need to fill.

Other renewables are also more likely to fill these gaps because batteries are not suitable for longer supply timescales but this will take time. So it makes perfect sense to look at stopgap technologies to aid the transition to renewables over the next 10-20 years, exactly what the government is doing.

With regards to the NBN, the new announcements are a shift but it’s nowhere near the claims in the article. Most people are still not utilising the higher speed offers on the current NBN and the rolled gold FTTP offer would have cost tens of billions more than originally planned and would have taken significantly longer to roll out.


your response is just nonsensical and might as well be a government press release. Its full of meaningless phrases like ‘firmed renewables” (whatever that might be) to somehow imply that renewables are not reliable. The last significant outages in south Australia were caused by gas plants failing to operate and when the interconnector went down in a storm the tesla battery kept the lights on. Why would the government be investing billions of taxpayers dollars in subsiding gas when it is cheaper and more environmentally sustainable to just go to a combination of renewables and storage? The answer is that they want to lock in the infrastructure to stop the tide of green energy which they bizarrely (particularly angus Taylor) hate with a passion. don’t ever underestimate the power of vested interests with deep connections to politicians and deep pockets to rent seek

The technologies are already there, and hydrogen is coming along rapidly. a government with vision would be investing in renewable hydrogen using solar power which could turn us into a manufacturing nation again

your comments on the NBN. please just admit the coalition botched it up completely by not delivering fibre to the premises in the first place. If only john Howard had split up Telstra when he privatised it into a network owner and a retailer we would have had a high speed broadband instead of the international laughing stock we have now

Mike of Canberra11:15 am 25 Sep 20

Chewy, I couldn’t agree more. Congratulations on a well informed and researched response to what is a disappointingly one-sided article.

If you don’t know what firmed renewables are, perhaps you should educate yourself? The rest of your comment similarly shows a lack of knowledge in this area.

The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, these technologies need to be “firmed” with other generation and storage technologies.

The focus on batteries is also misleading as their use is very limited, mainly being used for grid stability. Other technologies will have a much more prominent role at the larger generation timescales required. During the recent failures, the Tesla battery did not “keep the lights on” as you claim, it is minuscule and mostly used for FCAS. And that is the problem, the firming technologies are not quite there yet although they are progressing nicely and will be rolled out much wider in the next 10-20 years. This is where gas can provide an intermediary role for energy security as the transition happens.

We are still using 75% fossil fuels for electricity, the transition needs to be managed appropriately otherwise we will have a much less reliable national grid.

And I am in no way supportive of the federal government’s overall Energy policy direction (actually lack of). They should have provided much clearer direction to industry and the canning of the proposed NEG was a travesty although an emissions trading scheme would also be far superior.

And you haven’t responded to any of the points made about the NBN so I won’t bother replying either.

Your ‘when the interconnector went down in a storm the tesla battery kept the lights on ‘ is interesting.

The battery has been described as “When fully charged, the battery can power up to 30,000 homes for an hour.”

Sounds good but the census of 2016 shows SA peoples living in 767,267 dwellings . And so the figure of what the battery can achieve for the state is around 2 minutes per household. And of course that’s only dwellings.
Take into account industry and every other large sector that use leccy , like large shopping centres and what have you, and ‘the tesla battery kept the lights on’ wouldn’t have been for very long.

I am an economist who spent 10 years working in energy policy (although I no longer do so on a day to day basis), including on demand side policy, costings of different forms of generations, smart grids and smart meters – so i might have some knowledge in this area.

Your problem is that you have fallen for the line that we need baseload power – hence the phrase firmed renewables. in fact we don’t. Renewable energies are backed up by storage through batteries, demand side management and the occasional gas peaking plant. A new battery capital cost is well below that of an open cycle gas turbine, and the fuel cost is going down and is now around $10m/MWh – which is significantly below gas peaking costs.

You are correct in saying that batteries in Australia are used for FCAS which requires storage in minutes rather than hours – but this is changing as the cost comes down. as gas peaker will not be able to compete with a battery with 4 hours of storage.

You misunderstand the role of a battery. it kept the lights on by providing frequency support due to the loss of the interconnector – without the rapid response of a battery both NSW and Victoria had to shed load. SA did not.

I find it hard to believe that someone who worked in the area doesn’t know something as simple as the topics I was discussing. But OK.

And no, I haven’t fallen for anything, batteries are a form of firming although they are not yet viable at the levels required and are unlikely to be for some time, if ever in their current form. The idea that we won’t need a number of different forms of dispatchable generation technologies because “batteries” and demand management can provide everything we need, just doesn’t stack up.

And you even agree with me when you say “this is changing as the cost comes down”. In other words, at some point in the future.

But that time is not now and we need to maintain reliability in the grid as a primary driver as the transition occurs which is exactly what I’ve suggested. And that will include gas and other fossil fuels at significant levels for at least another decade, being phased out into the 2030’s.

Here’s a good report on the various renewable technologies that will lead this transition, all I’m saying is it won’t happen tomorrow.


Capital Retro8:18 am 28 Sep 20

If renewables and batteries have been a success why are we still getting 75% of electrical energy via fossil fuel power generation and how much of that 75% comes to Canberra?

Capital Retro,
You do realise that just 5 years ago the figure for renewables was around 15% and 10 years ago was well below 10%.

In 10 years time it will be above 50%.

The transition is already happening, it’s the management of that change that needs work, so we don’t end up with significant power outages because of uncertain policy directions from the government.

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