The days of gas are pretty much over. Greenhouse gas emissions from gas coupled with rising prices will see to that. Especially when you think that you could couple your electrically-driven space or water-heating heat pump with renewable electricity from the electricity grid or from your own solar PV panels and warm your home while generating no greenhouse gas emissions at all.
Thinking of buying a gas-burning space-heater, water-heater or cooktop? As eastern Australia’s traditional gas supplies from the Bass Strait dry up, you might want to think again.
Out in Bass Strait through the 1960s and 70s, Esso and BHP made one discovery after another. Sometimes a deposit or “field” was richer in oil than in gas, sometimes it was the other way around.
As oil was far more valuable, gas was a cheap by-product to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Power stations and industries appeared in Victoria and beyond, happy to use this cheap form of energy. Gas pipelines spread out from Victoria to all neighbouring states with interconnections right up to Queensland.
Millions of Australian homes became dependent on gas. Gas was so cheap we didn’t have to worry much about insulating our homes or sealing them from draughts. We were even happy to heat up outdoor cafes by burning gas and we sent great balls of fire skyward from casinos. We enjoyed burning the cheapest gas in the developed world.
But that changed in 2015 when, for the first time in eastern Australia, gas could be chilled, liquefied, loaded onto a ship, and exported overseas from Gladstone Queensland. Suddenly we saw the shift from a gas buyers market to a gas seller’s market. Wholesale prices doubled, doubled again, and then went up some more. People in their homes buying gas on the retail market saw their gas prices rise as the impact flowed through.
So that was gas price shock number one. Get ready for number two.
The gas in the prolific Bass Strait gas fields wasn’t going to last forever: only 55 years or so.
The Australian Market Operator (AEMO), relying on data supplied by Esso (now known as ExxonMobil), reports that for winter 2025 no one knows for sure from where Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Canberra will be getting up to half their gas.
ExxonMobil had hopes they’d find more gas offshore, but a recent drilling program came up empty. Other oil and gas companies would like to drill all across eastern Australia using methods such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, but they aren’t going to find another Bass Strait.
So with the Bass Strait gas fields showing a steep decline only six years from now, ExxonMobil and other companies such as AGL are looking to bring gas into new import terminals in Adelaide, Westernport Bay, Wollongong, and Newcastle. That imported gas might be the same gas that was shipped out of Queensland. Or it might come from Western Australia or the Middle East, we don’t know. However here is one thing we do know: gas from those places won’t be cheap.
Gas retailers and distributors are doing us a disservice as they advertise advantages for using gas when they don’t know from where that gas is going to come or at what price it will be offered.
But what are our options? Can we shift away from expensive gas? University of Melbourne research found that Victorians would be millions of dollars ahead each year heating their homes with electrically-powered reverse-cycle air conditioners. This is a cheap option because these devices are “air-source heat pumps” that harvest free renewable heat from the air outside your home.
A renewed focus on home insulation and draught-sealing will reduce energy bills regardless of which way you heat your home. On social media, people discuss how to prioritise ways to efficiently electrify their homes.
Those concerned about our warming climate can be sure that up to 80 per cent of the heat we get from a heat pump is renewable heat these devices collect from the thin air outside your home.
Couple your electrically-driven space or water-heating heat pump with renewable electricity from the electricity grid or from your own solar PV panels and you can warm your home while generating no greenhouse gas emissions at all.
Price shocks will keep coming. Act now to future-proof your business or home by switching off gas.
Tim Forcey is an independent energy advisor who has worked with the University of Melbourne, the Australian Energy Market Operator, and BHP.
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