Say it with me: gas is not a transition fuel.
COVID-19 could be the trigger for the much-needed step change in our clean energy transition. But the Morrison government has stacked the National COVID-19 Coordination Committee with oil and gas sector representatives, pushing for fossil fuel lobby-led economic recovery. It looks like gas is tipped to be the centrepiece of our energy recovery package.
We know gas is not the solution for our clean energy future.
Gas will not be cheap for long: East coast gas has recently seen a record slump to $4/GJ due to oversupply resulting from COVID-19 reduced demand. Historical prices have been relatively cheap, in part due to subsidies along the supply chain to the tune of $29 billion annually for coal, oil and gas in Australia. But demand will pick up as the economy bounces back from COVID-19 and in all scenarios, market operator modelling suggests prices will continue to increase out to 2040. The cost of capital for renewables continues to fall, meaning fossil fuels would need further propping-up to be cost competitive with new-build battery-firmed renewables (wind and solar alone are already cheaper).
Gas is not low emissions: Fugitive emissions from gas, oil and coal extraction contribute 8 per cent to Australia’s annual emissions, and that’s before combustion emissions from power production.
Gas is not needed for grid stability and reliability: our own energy market operator says Australian renewables have the capability to achieve 75 per cent instantaneous penetration by 2025, and can provide sufficient system strength when firmed with dispatchable solutions including batteries and pumped hydro.
Gas is not the future: electrification will displace the need for gas in many applications (think household heaters and induction cooktops) while green hydrogen presents an attractive future alternative for industrial uses and heavy transport.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a system-wide slowdown. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back our economy better and greener by developing a pathway for the future that communities want and our economy needs. We can capitalise on this opportunity by supporting emerging innovations and technologies that are cheaper and quicker to develop and run than the incumbents, are highly scalable, create more jobs and propel us towards decarbonisation. Energy is a key sector and an easy one to assist.
The Commonwealth government is fixated on a different path: Morrison’s stacking of the NCCC could undermine this opportunity for clean energy. The recommendations of the King Review and the Technology Investment Roadmap prioritise carbon capture and storage and nuclear over cheaper, cleaner solutions.
We should also remain cognisant of the repeated falsehood around our emissions trajectory: despite the Commonwealth’s rhetoric, we are actually underperforming in our disproportionately unambitious Paris Agreement commitment of 26-28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels, with annual emissions dropping just 0.3 per cent in the year to September 2019. 1.5C warming seems a farfetched scenario at this rate.
The clean energy opportunities are in our backyard. Japan and South Korea have signalled an appetite for green hydrogen. Other options already underway to replace our current climate-threatening energy exports are HVDC/supergrids and onshore mineral refinement using electricity from enormous solar and wind projects. We think the future can be bright.
But young Australians are overwhelmed and worried in the face of economic recession and mounting climate impacts. Having grown up through “the climate wars” and political climate mismanagement, we see that the propping-up of dying coal infrastructure with taxpayer money and risible notions of gas as a transition fuel only make us more vulnerable to climate impacts. New gas infrastructure will be stranded in the near future because renewables deployment will be hard to slow as costs fall further.
If governments are taking on intergenerational debt to recover from COVID-19, young Australians need to see the delivery of intergenerational outcomes. Governments need to support, not encumber, the truly lowest-cost form of energy (wind and solar) and emerging technologies with the greatest opportunities for growth. Not the gas option, whose grid benefits have been constantly overstated and its emissions constantly (and grossly) underreported. The renewables industry isn’t even lobbying for subsidy: it just wants better and clearer regulation. A focus on gas in Australia’s economic recovery stimulus seeks to undo the progress that state and local governments, businesses and communities have fought for in Australia for decades – voices that have collectively envisioned a safer, more equitable future.
Change is still needed on a systems level, now – change to help fix our broken economic, environmental and human systems. Young Australians are tired of our dismal history of climate policy “ping pong”, political short-termism and relentless environmental destruction without consequence. It is imperative we take steps to slash emissions with an economy-wide emissions reduction target and a business-backed carbon price – as global citizens with the highest emissions per capita among developed nations, we have no option to do otherwise.
It is a shame that businesses consistently show more ambition than our Commonwealth government, with private sector giants committing to renewables through RE100, and the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative, backed by major banks and insurers, shedding light on a sustainable finance future for our economy.
We have been waiting our whole lives for politicians to align with our vision, one that is ambitious and backed by a clear pathway to the clean energy future we all need and know is possible. COVID-19 has demonstrated our human potential to respond to crisis, and how efficient our systems can be when an emergency is declared. For young Australians and future generations, we can wait no longer for governments to respond to the climate emergency. Decisions made now must address the climate risks that await us all.
Gas is not the solution.
Finnian Murphy is communications lead for Bright Sparks Australia, a community for engaged, motivated and passionate young people working in clean energy across Australia.
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