Category Archives: Policy and Economics
Early or late, this year will bring a federal election where all voters can influence policy on emissions reduction and climate change. Philip Walker outlines some policy possibilities.
Australia must properly address its emissions reduction responsibilities now
Federal elections are approaching this year. There is a very important issue we are still not hearing much about. Many Australians are increasingly concerned about the future of our world under the effects of climate change. In spite of this, our decision makers continue to avoid addressing the issue seriously.
Australia remains one of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting countries, per unit of energy supply and consumption.Most Australians are not scientists, engineers or economists. It is difficult for many of us to hold an informed opinion about what measures should be taken in Australia in order to play our proper part in reducing carbon emissions world wide. However voters do have the opportunity to understand the fundamentals and to express their concerns.
A few years back we had the carbon tax. Some politicians, by stressing biased negative argument, soured public opinion about the tax, resulting in its repeal. However, there is considerable informed opinion worldwide advocating carbon taxes or fees to be the most effective form of carbon pricing to adequately address the problem.
A couple of US proposals could be applied to Australia
Economist William G. Gale, a US expert on tax policy, discussed options in the US economy at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. He said: Carbon taxes would contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment and better environmental and energy policy by providing price signals to those who pollute. Not surprisingly, most analyses find that a carbon tax could indeed significantly reduce emissions.Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has proposed a “carbon fee” system under which fossil fuels are taxed when they are produced or imported, rather than when they are consumed. Under his proposal, countries would collect a fee when fossil fuels are mined or imported, and distribute the revenue to their citizens, while charging extra border duties to countries without a similar scheme.
Such carbon pricing, used effectively, would discourage emissions in favour of clean energy sources. Whilst accounting for the external costs of impacts on climate and environment, it fairly distributes compensation to the people. There should be no subsequent incentives to selected energy sources. The energy markets should be allowed to determine the mix of clean energy systems used.
In July 2015 Renew Economy published Hugh Saddler’s discussion of the take-home messages from abolition of Australian carbon tax, illustrating the proven effectiveness of the tax in Australia. In reading his conclusions, it is evident that the induced changes were modest in both supply and consumption but were what economic theory would have predicted. Larger impacts of a price on carbon will only appear if the policy is maintained over the long term. Many factors besides the carbon price have influenced changes in the behaviour of electricity consumers and suppliers. Achieving larger and faster emissions reductions will require a wide range of policies, all working in the same direction. A price on emissions, whether through an emissions trading scheme or a tax, will be a key component of such a suite, but only one component.
Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015, said: Once emissions reduction responsibilities have been allocated amongst countries, it is possible for each country to contribute its share of the mitigation responsibility not only through the application of a Carbon Tax or an ETS, but also by direct regulation of emissions-intensive activity, or by fiscal payments to low-emissions activities, or through multifarious regulatory and fiscal interventions. He indicated that small countries with currently high emissions, like Australia, will not be able to resist indefinitely the pressure from the larger countries to do their fair shares in a global mitigation effort. Sooner or later proper action will be required, which will then be at higher cost than if steady progress had been made from an early time.
Sometimes in Australia we see the leading political parties’ bilateral support for action on selected issues. Why not with action on climate change?
We need to be continually demanding that our politicians put forward policies that, once implemented, would enable us to effectively play our part in addressing world climate change.
Economist William G. Gale, US expert on tax policy, discussing options in the US economy, at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. The wisdom of a carbon tax
US environmental scientist James Hansen, addressing a “carbon fee” in The Conversation December 2, 2015. James Hansen: emissions trading won’t work, but my global ‘carbon fee’ will
Hugh Saddler, One Year on from the Carbon Price Australia’s Emissions Rebound is Clear, Renew Economy 22 July 2015
Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015. The Essential Role of Carbon Pricing
David Tranter suggests that storing energy from a local rail line could help ensure cheap, reliable, renewable power.
Australian coal-fired power stations have access to cheap coal, are heavily subsidised, and do not cover the environmental costs of their production. As a consequence, their production costs are very low by international standards (3-5c/k). They could easily sell electricity on the cheap. In practice, however, they sell their energy at up 10 times its production cost, making a killing at the expense of households and businesses.
To be fair, most energy suppliers offer discount rates of about 15c/kWh for off-peak (night-time) use. But that doesn’t suit most consumers, who continue to pay the peak-hour rate of 20-40c/kWh. Clearly, there is scope in the Australian Energy Market for a more efficient system, one that could guarantee consumers the electricity they need without overheating the atmosphere and de-stabilising the climate.
Renewable energy plays a useful role in stabilising the grid by ironing out its peaks and troughs, since much renewable energy is harvested by day. In practice, however, the grids and conventional energy providers depend more on each other than on potential renewable energy suppliers, which they see as unwanted competition. They deny renewables access to the grid — because they can. It is time, perhaps long past time, for a “smart grid” to provide people and industry with the energy they need, rather than the energy they want.
One way to smooth out peaks and troughs in demand is to store surplus night-time electricity for daytime use. Battery technologies are now evolving fast and costs are tumbling as fast as photovoltaic panels have done over the past 10 years. Lithium ion storage systems are already available on the Australian market for both household and business use, but it will probably be some time before they have the potential, on a grid-wide scale, to meet daytime demand by storing night-time excess.
That being so, NSW could follow the Californian lead and look to gravity storage options, which use off-peak electricity as a resource that can be bought on the cheap and sold at twice the price. Eraring Energy already does this on a small scale. By night they use cheap electricity to pump water from downhill Lake Yarranga into uphill Fitzroy Reservoir. By day they can release the water to generate hydro electricity, which they can sell to the grid for up to twice the price of pumping.
The generation efficiency of this option, however, is limited by the friction between water and pipe. A more efficient alternative to move heavy materials uphill is to use a railroad train, which loses much less energy in friction, an initiative of the Californian company ARES (Advanced Rail Energy Storage).
A variant of that principle is the “regenerative braking” that is being introduced on the new generation of NSW suburban trains which, by their nature, stop and start to pick up passengers. Regenerative braking recovers energy otherwise lost as heat and feeds it back to the source through their overhead power lines. Its limitation as a storage option is that such trains run mainly on gentle gradients by day, rather than by night, a limitation that does not apply to the ARES option.
ARES plans to use a purpose-built railroad up a mountain in Nevada to generate 50mWh of off-peak storage energy to meet peak energy demand. The dimensions of the Nevada railway track (distance 9.2km, grade 7.2%) are remarkably similar to that of the existing Illawarra Mountain Railway that is currently used on a daily basis by coal, limestone and (in season) grain trains that lose their braking energy in heat.
Perhaps there is a case for electrifying the Illawarra Mountain Railway to stabilise the grid by recovering the braking energy that is currently being wasted as heat until such time as NSW can afford to build the proposed electric railway line between Dombarton and Maldon?
David Tranter, D.Sc., OAM
Two great events this weekend: Friday’s CANWin speaker forum shows us how to get to fossil-fuel freedom; on Saturday afternoon Robertson CTC showcases the at-risk wonders of icy Antarctica.
Glenn Dawson is a freelance photographer specialising in wildlife and nature. He and his cameras have made four trips to the Arctic, Alaska and Canada. He has also travelled twice to Africa to work and photograph wildlife and landscape. Robertson is to be treated to a presentation by Glenn, sharing his love and knowledge of the Antarctic, and other lands he has visited with a focus on nature, wildlife and cultures. Suitable for all ages.
Saturday 28th February, 3pm – 5pm; tickets $10. For bookings, contact the CTC, tel. 02 4885 2665.
More than 15,000 businesses have now installed a commercial-size solar power system. These businesses cover a broad range of sectors, from dairy and chicken farmers through to wineries, offices, supermarkets and retail outlets.
There is an increasing recognition that the current modest support provided by the RET means the business case for solar power makes sense, helping businesses become more competitive in tough economic conditions.
This is a very effective policy which is working well and will begin to phase out naturally from 2017. The rest of the world is going full-speed ahead on solar and there is a huge opportunity here for Australian businesses if we leave the RET alone.
[Kane Thornton, Clean Energy Council]
Tell your Federal MP, Australia needs the Renewable Energy Target scheme.
Throsby: Mr Stephen Jones
2/1 Bong Bong Road
Dapto, NSW, 2530
PO Box 864
Dapto, NSW, 2530
Phone: 4262 6122
Fax: 4262 615
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: 6277 4661
Fax: 6277 8548
Gilmore: Mrs Anne Sudmalis
24 Berry Street,
Nowra, NSW, 2541
PO Box 1009
Nowra, NSW, 2541
Phone: 4423 1782
Fax: 4423 1785
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: 6277 4141
Fax: 6277 8482
Hume: Mr Angus Taylor
191 Auburn Street
Goulburn, NSW, 2580
PO Box 700
Goulburn, NSW, 2580
Phone: 4822 2277
Fax: 4822 1029
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: 6277 4662
Fax: 6277 2389
Martijn Wilder is a Board Member of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and WWF (Australia), Chair of the NSW Climate Change Council, an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Australian National University, and head of Baker & McKenzie’s Global Environmental Markets practice.
Martijn’s talk will give an overview of Australia’s policy framework on climate change, its history, success and failings and where to next (Wow!). He will also discuss how other countries are addressing climate change and the role that new technologies and global financial institutions are playing.
Friday 22nd August 2014, 7pm
Henrietta Rose Room, Bowral Library
Very light refreshments from 6.30pm
Admission: $5, Pensioners: $2
Everyone and your friends are welcome.
Rob Parker is a foundation member of CANWin whose engineering background underpins his understanding that the climate problem is enormous and urgent. In this article, the first in a series, Rob argues that renewables alone cannot reduce carbon emissions to a safe level; nuclear power must be part of the solution.
This view is likely to become a part of the policy debate in Australia. We hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments section below this article.
This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the use of nuclear power to address climate change. For many people this is a contentious concept and for some their response will be hostile and incredulous. As a “baby boomer” my own journey into advocacy for nuclear power hopefully explains why its immediate adoption is essential to saving our civilisation and environment.My concern about climate change was ignited in 2005 when climate change awareness was growing and people were angry. We had a general revulsion against consumerism and rampant consumption. Corporate greed and ineffectual politicians were the enemies of the people and the environment and renewable energy solutions were thought to restore some level of control over our lives and return us to living in harmony with nature.
A wave of behavioural doctrines and solutions spread through the climate change movement. I researched alternative energy solutions and found that rarely was any analysis done to justify their adoption and at times perverse outcomes have resulted. A notable example is that of biofuels where markets have determined that more money can be made by displacing food production (for example, see here and here) or by destroying tropical habitats, especially of the Orangutan.
But regardless of the evident failure of “renewables” to make any real dent in our greenhouse gas emissions the “back to nature” movement would brook no opposition. For some, science and technology were seen as a part of this attack on our environment, so conceptually straightforward technologies harvesting nature’s free energy became the vogue. Typically we saw the large scale adoption of decentralised power systems such as roof top solar. The intermittency of these systems, which entrench the use of emissions intensive gas turbines, was and remains an inconvenient truth.
We will only get one chance to refashion our economy around low carbon technologies and people need to be held accountable for their opposition especially when it has no analytical basis. As James Hansen has recently observed:
“People who entreat the government to solve global warming but only offer support for renewable energies will be rewarded with the certainty that the U.S. and most of the world will be fracked-over, coal mining will continue, the Arctic, Amazon and other pristine public lands will be violated, and the deepest oceans will be ploughed for fossil fuels. Politicians are not going to let the lights go out or stop economic growth. Don’t blame Obama or other politicians. If we give them no viable option, we will be fracked and mined to death, and have no one to blame but ourselves.”
I detect similarities in science denial between the anti nuclear power brigade and the climate change sceptics. Again as James Hansen points out “There is no reciprocity from the supporters of renewable energy” with their preferred option being fossil fuel backup of renewable energy. “In other words replace carbon free nuclear power with a dual system, renewables plus gas. With this approach CO2 emissions will increase and it is certain that fracking will continue and expand into larger regions.”
The case I am making is for a clean low carbon industrial future, in harmony with and nurturing nature. For it is nature in the wondrous cosmic events such as the implosion of giant stars that gave our planet with immense improbability those elements essential to life such as iron, chromium, molybdenum or cadmium. These were created when stars in their final death throes fashioned and expelled these elements along with uranium and thorium into the cosmos. By a massive fluke these then aggregate into structures such as the Earth to enable life to flourish.
Mankind’s creativity can harness these elements from the magic furnace of the cosmos and use them to protect rather than assault our environment. My desire is to stop the industrialisation of our landscapes and to never entertain the massive network of towers and transmission lines that typify wind farms and solar plants. In an increasingly stressed landscape I wish to see nuclear powered desalinated seawater pumped inland so that we can remove many of the dams currently choking our increasingly climate stressed rivers.
As an engineer I became concerned that harvesting wind and solar power could not provide the amount of energy required to refashion our industrial economy around low carbon technologies. Nor could they do it in the time frame or within the carbon budgets that are required. We know the targets. We’ve been told often enough that a stabilisation target of 450 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent gives about a 50% chance of limiting global mean temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius. This means Australia needs to reduce its annual emissions by 90% by 2050, which means that our electricity must be generated with emissions less than 90 grams per kilowatt hour.
A quick review of Australia’s energy consumption shows where our efforts need to be directed if we are to address our emissions by 2050.
The diagram shows that to make any meaningful reductions we need to be synthesising transport fuels and changing the ways we process metals or manufacture cement. Importantly we need to drive carbon out of our electricity generation. It’s no good claiming that we need to de-industrialise or have large cut backs on consumption. The scale of the industrial transition required to achieve a low carbon economy will dwarf our current production. Meaningful reductions will for example result in the hydrogen replacing coal in the smelting of steel with the result that steam rather than carbon dioxide is expelled. Likewise aluminium, known as “canned electricity” has to be smelted using massive amounts of reliable clean low carbon electricity. Our heavy road transport needs to move to electrified rail and our light car fleet converted to electricity. It’s obvious that we have not even started the process of real carbon reductions and all this needs to be done with speed and with massive energy density.
We will only get one go at transforming our energy base and any system that is unproven or has massive redundancy and does not stand up to analytical rigor must be excluded. No nation has yet made any significant greenhouse gas reductions using wind or solar power and certainly not with expensive storage systems.
France and Sweden are two standout examples whose nuclear powered electricity generation meets the levels required by 2050. This has resulted in electricity being generated with carbon emissions of 77 and 22 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour versus our 847(1). France achieved their transition in 22 years with almost double Australia’s generating capacity.
We have on this planet enough uranium to power the globe for tens of thousands of years. Nuclear power stations utilise materials some 20 times more efficiently than wind or solar power and in nations that embrace the technology, 1200 megawatt reactors are now built in around four years.
In five future papers I will explore the issues of radiation, reactor safety, used fuel deployment, proliferation resistance and the massive environmental and industrial benefits of nuclear energy. Much of this will come from my studies into nuclear physics at ANU. I hope you’ll stay around for all of them.
Robert Parker 14th April, 2014
(1) International Energy Agency, CO2 EMISSIONS FROM FUEL COMBUSTION Highlights (2012 Edition), p111
A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 2 April 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.As the Prime Minister says, a cycle of drought and flooding rain is normal for Australia. Thirty years ago scientists worked out that the source of this natural cycle is not on land, but in the Pacific Ocean.
In a four-stage cycle called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), warmth and moisture move back and forth between Australia and the Americas.
Westerly winds skim off the warm surface layer of the sea, transport it westward and pile it up to the north of Australia. This warm surface layer evaporates, the source of our La Nina rains. Then eastward winds flow back across the Pacific towards central America, bringing rain to Peru and Ecuador but leaving Australasia in El Nino drought.
This cycle has been going on for centuries; it’s the normal drought regime. Well done Prime Minister!
But our times are not normal, and the sooner you learn the difference, the better it will be for all of us. Man-made greenhouse warming is disturbing the natural balance. If we don’t all take the present global warming trend seriously, man-made greenhouse warming will double the frequency of extreme droughts. Prime Minister, it’s time to listen to the experts.
The experts will tell you that the surface mixed layer in the eastern Pacific gains more heat from man-made fossil fuel emissions than the west, where evaporation has a net cooling effect. This means that extreme droughts (such as 1982-83) are likely to return every 10 years instead of every 20. That leaves the food sources of the nation with not enough time to recover from the last severe drought.
So Prime Minister, why are you so heavily subsidizing dirty coal-fired power stations when renewable alternatives are available? Why do you allow such industries to off-load the costs of their pollution to other industries and the populace at large? Where is the level playing field for electricity generation? Why do you expect people to bear the cost of profligate spending on poles and wires for outdated, grid-based, 19th century technology?”
How about taking care of your grand-children’s future rather than your own?