Strategic Climate/Energy Policy Issues Paper

The task to make Australia 100% clean-energy is much larger than generally thought requiring approximately 250% more electricity generation than at present.

Today we’ve launched a policy paper by Dr Tom Biegler, ATSE, FRACI pointing out the practical  issues with this and recommending that nuclear must be one of the technologies. To download the paper, click here.

A clean-energy Australia would be an all-electric Australia fed by an abundant, secure and reliable flow of clean electricity, not reliant on fossil fuels.

As of today less than 40% of our fossil fuel supply gets burned in power stations.

If tomorrow by magic all of today’s power supplies came from clean sources like sun and wind, more than 60% of fossil fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions would remain untouched.

There’s only one conclusion. Eliminating all fossil fuels and their emissions will need much more electricity than now. Analysis says about 2½ times more, at least.

Where will all that extra electricity come from?

How can everything be made to work on electricity?

Those two questions define the strategic needs of our climate/energy policy.

Renewables, hydroelectricity and nuclear energy are now the world’s main sources of clean electricity.

In Australia, hydroelectricity is generally considered to be near its limits.

As for solar and wind electricity, at Australia’s current record growth rates it will still take over 60 years to reach clean electricity goals. This analysis is optimistic and ignores factors like population growth and rising living standards.

It also ignores the need to turn intermittent solar and wind generation into a reliable energy supply. Storage is claimed as the answer. Batteries, pumped hydro and hydrogen are all popular candidate technologies. At the scale needed for major electricity grids these must still be regarded as speculative and not the firm basis a sound strategic outlook requires.

The difficulties in scaling this mix of technologies up so it is reliable, available and affordable are so large that it is unlikely to happen without a significant contribution from nuclear power. Given the popular prejudice against nuclear, governments need to be talking to their citizens intelligently about the problems with our current trajectory so they can understand the need.

Then there’s the issue of electrification, converting every present use of fossil fuels into electricity-driven processes. Transportation, metal production, fertilisers, explosives, petrochemicals, plastics – the list is huge and the efforts have barely begun. Impressive advances in electric cars are the main exception.

Getting the energy mix right also has implications beyond energy policy itself. A failure in this area represents a security risk. In the absence of international agreements that bind competitors to limit their emissions too, a unilateral reduction, using a bad technology mix would be economically damaging, as well as futile.

This would leave Australia with the worst of both worlds – a damaged economy for no measurable decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.