11 June 2021

What the ACT needs to do to get to zero emissions faster

| Ian Bushnell
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wind farm

The ACT should buy even more renewable power like that generated at the Hornsdale Wind Farm, according to Professor Andrew Blakers. Photo: File.

The ACT should buy more renewable electricity than it needs, hold reverse auctions to upgrade household heating and offer substantial subsidies to accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles, according to ANU researcher Andrew Blakers.

The Director of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Professor Blakers also poured cold water on what he called the hydrogen hype when giving evidence to the Legislative Assembly Inquiry into Renewable Energy Innovation in the ACT.

Professor Blakers, best known for co-inventing sliver solar cell technology, told the Standing Committee on Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity that while the ACT was doing better than other states in reducing greenhouse emissions, it needed to go much faster to meet its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2045.

He said the next steps were the transition to electric vehicles and electric space and water heating in buildings, homes and waste treatment.

“We need to move very quickly in respect of all three because there are long lag times,” he said.

Professor Blakers also believes the Government should aim for 80 per cent of houses to have rooftop solar by 2026.

He suggested the most effective way to further bring down emissions would be for the ACT to go far beyond its present 100 per cent renewably sourced electricity purchases.

“In fact, the most effective way in which people can contribute to removing greenhouse emission right at this moment is to carry on with the offset program for electricity and go to 200 per cent electricity by contracting more solar and wind farms,” he said.

“The reason for this is that it undermines the intransigence at the federal level in terms of supporting renewables, and because of the low cost of wind and solar it contributes to the continuation and expansion of the industry at very low locked-in prices for electricity for the ACT.”

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Professor Blakers said this could also be a way to leverage private company capital as part of reverse auction deals to source co-funding from the Australian Research Council and ARENA to boost research and development projects at the ANU and the University of Canberra.

He said the reverse auction idea could also be applied to upgrading space and water heating in buildings and homes.

It would allow for upgrading to energy efficient electric heat pumps on a mass scale and the excellent security of private homes also provided the means to secure finance to pay for it.

A parliamentary standing committee has been told that bigger subsidies are needed to accelerate EV uptake. Photo: File.

The cost could be recovered when the home is sold or through the rates system – a version of which the City of Melbourne is operating.

Professor Blakers said this would also get around the resistance of landlords to put up the capital to upgrade a property because both landlord and tenant would benefit from a more valuable property and lower energy bills.

“Because you are not doing one by one you can have a fairly robust legal and economic framework,” he said.

“There are many ways to do it. But the principle is fantastic security on the house and you can radically upgrade performance which increases comfort and reduces energy bills on a mass scale.”

Professor Blakers told the committee that the ACT had to bite the bullet and provide substantial subsidies to people who wanted to buy an electric vehicle, beyond the current free rego for two years.

He said the Government could increase overall registration fees to raise a pool of money to divide between EV purchasers.

“The obvious way to do this is to add $30 to everyone’s rego fee and all of that money would raise $9 million or $10 million per year and that’s simply divided by electric vehicle sales in the ACT,” he said.

Professor Andrew Blakers, centre, with Dr Matt Stocks and PhD candidate Bin Lu from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science at the ANU. Photo: ANU.

The subsidy would wind down as sales went up and rego could be scaled according to the value of a vehicle so those less well-off were not disadvantaged.

“This is a way of bridging the gap between the capital cost of EVs and the capital cost of the equivalent ordinary vehicle,” he said.

Professor Blakers poured scorn on the idea that hydrogen would play a big role in the zero-emissions future saying it was far too inefficient, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would never be able to compete with electric vehicles.

“The round trip efficiency to go from solar and wind electricity through an electrolyser to make hydrogen then back to electricity through a fuel cell is about 25 per cent, 30 per cent tops,” he told the committee.

“To put the same electricity through a pumped hydro or battery, the efficiency is 80 to 90 per cent, so why on earth would you use hydrogen as an energy store. It makes zero sense.”

Food for thought for the ACT Government which is currently trialling hydrogen vehicles through Australia’s first refuelling station as part of an arrangement with ActewAGL and Hyundai.

Also something for the Government to ponder is Professors Blakers support for waste incineration to cut dangerous methane emissions from landfill, something it ruled out when such a plant was proposed in Fyshwick.

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“Professor Blakers told the committee that the ACT had to bite the bullet and provide substantial subsidies to people who wanted to buy an electric vehicle, beyond the current free rego for two years.

He said the Government could increase overall registration fees to raise a pool of money to divide between EV purchasers.”

Why should other motorists be expected to foot the bill at this stage, so that those with plenty of $ can then get a slightly cheaper EV. I’m all for seeing more EVs on the road, but you shouldn’t be stinging those that can’t afford them to subsidise those that can. Talk about a reverse welfare state outcome.

I agree and it’s this sort of rent seeking that does a disservice to what they are trying to achieve.

It’s actually also why a market mechanism for trading carbon is still desperately needed but that would require federal government support which isnt likely any time soon.

Completely agree chewy.

Desperately need the return of a proper market mechanism for carbon trading, and combined with sensible approaches to encouraging accelerated uptake of things like ZEVs.

The free rego one is a reasonable one – in the grand scheme of things it won’t impact on other drivers in any significant sense at this point (total revenue foregone is tiny), but provides some positive benefit up front (even if its marginal per say). I’d like to see it combined with reform to start the transition towards long term road user charging (in a revenue neutral manner), but not sure we will see that any time soon.

Stinging other drivers (many of who simply could not afford to buy an EV anyway) for some upfront ‘feel good factor’ for those that can afford to buy an EV at this point is a dreadful idea – that won’t make any genuine difference in the long run (i.e. market forces will eventually drive the transition anyway) if done at the ACT level, yet piss people off in the short term. If such initiatives must be undertaken, ideally they should be led by the Commonwealth (fat chance of that), or alternatively funded from general taxation revenue. At least that means everyone is contributing towards it in some form or another.

Like the contracting mess the Gov has created in the electricity space (which again was driven as much about a desperation to be a ‘leader’ irrespective of its genuine costs), the proposed approach would just directly impact parts of the community who are already doing it pretty tough, for little tangible benefits for the community.

HiddenDragon6:39 pm 13 Jun 21

Canberrans (particularly those without the income of a professor or an MLA) who are still absorbing the recent news about a big electricity price hike will be thrilled to hear the latest batch of bright ideas for dipping ever deeper into their pockets.

If the retort to that is “but these things will pay for themselves”, then why the constant pressure from the climate campaigners to make their ideas compulsory? We don’t need laws to force people to find value for money in other aspects of their lives – they can do that for themselves.

Capital Retro6:01 pm 13 Jun 21

Nothing new in that advertorial but it’s great to see one side bagging the hydrogen lobby.

Our virtual signalling government will find plenty of money for both sides.

*virtue signalling.
Auto correct. I know.
Hate it.

Capital Retro9:29 pm 13 Jun 21

It was along day.

There’s no such thing as zero emissions. Every item you buy has had emissions to create it. The Chinese made windmills, the Chinese made solar panels, were all made in factories that, you guessed, it spewed emissions. You can’t produce metal without emissions. Your Tesla Model 3 was made with emissions. The rare earth metals to produce the components were sauced from countries, some of which rely on slave and child labour, but don’t let that affect you sleep patterns.
Do yourself a favour and watch Planet of the Humans, if you can find it. It was produced by Michael Moore.

Good luck with that. I recommended “Planet of the Humans” on a thread months ago and the silence has been deafening. I guess a truthful narrative isn’t supported by the majority of Rioters.

Most people probably didn’t respond because the “documentary” you reference was full of outdated, inaccurate information and has been widely discredited.

But it did what it was designed to, create more publicity for the filmmakers.

Jeez Chewy – I never picked you as a Tim Flannery fan boy?

What has Tim Flannery got to do with a woefully inaccurate documentary?

Geez it’s a rough day.

My apologies Chewy. I assumed that if you were bagging the doco that you must have been in camp Climate Change – the camp/cult with Timbo as it’s figurehead.

Climate change is most definitely real, although Flannery isn’t really a figurehead or anyone that represents a position.

The science speaks for itself.

The real thing we should be debating in these discussions isn’t whether the climate is changing (it is), it’s what we should be doing about it and how we can adapt, with real world solutions that make sense.

Putting your head in the sand is just as illogical as saying we should all be driving EV’s tomorrow.

Capital Retro12:57 pm 14 Jun 21

Flannery is the Chief Councillor at the Climate Council. I think you could fairly say he represents a position.

I agree with you Chewy – climate change is a thing.

What I don’t agree with is that man made climate change is a thing.

I am tired of these elites asking the poor to pay for the expensive green tech desired by the virtuous. If you want the latest green tech, go and pay for it yourself.

I agree. We two are retired, we do not drive our car more than three times a week. We bought it, very slightly used in early 2016. It has just 77,000 km on it. It will probaly out-last us both.

It’s not an EV.

I for one am very tired of behests to be more green, by this page and everyone else. When we bought our first (and to be last) home we’d been looking for house we could use to have two children. And some other ‘aspects.’

Because I’d attended Senate Select (?) Committee meetings following the oil-shock of the early 70s I was tuned into ‘energy efficiency’ and had read (and bought) a book on energy efficent housing for Australia…..

I wanted a house that was already adapted or suitable. We lucked out, run-down / overgrown garden …, BUT.

North side of the road, ran almost perfectly due East-West, and just large enough for 4. It was soon insulated in the ceiling (>R4 now >R6 and the walls are insulated. The floors are insulated under laminated floor-boards. The Nth side has a long and deep L-shaped deck with 91% shade.

I would wonder how many of the ‘woke’ and ‘green’ – old enough to match can claim to have done as much.

Our current and all past territory governments have not done the basic thing of legislating for low-energy use orientation of all housing sold here.

The knowledge and good sense of this has existed since the 1970s at least. I’d bet that even the so-wise greens have no such plans.

Being heavily dependent on one major source of revenue can be expected to distort policy.

? Land, in the ACT.

The results are all around us.

Thanks for your efforts. We too try to alleviate our energy use in similar ways. Also agree with your observations on policy.
Modern methods may hail from the 70’s however water still runs downhill and this has been known for centuries. I guess economics are the root of this period of malaise.

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