Victoria burns a lot of gas, more than any other state. An interim presentation of the Victorian Government’s Gas Substitution Roadmap points to Victorian gas use quickly falling to less than half of current levels within as little as eight years (that’s by 2030).
How will this dramatic turn-around in energy use be achieved? It will require a remarkable transition of how we manage heating of Victorian buildings, the beginnings of which are already underway.
Later this year, the Victorian Government will publish their Gas Substitution Roadmap. Recently I participated in an interim stakeholder forum. A “central scenario” presented by the government described Victorian gas use falling to less than half of current levels within eight years (by 2030, see graphic). What will drive this remarkable shift?
Getting off gas is good – for our climate
The Victorian Government has set the following greenhouse-gas emissions reduction targets:
- 28-33% by 2025
- 45-50% by 2030
- net zero by 2050 (legislated).
Unfortunately, every day and still vigorously contributing to climate breakdown, Victoria uses far more fossil gas in buildings than any other state, mainly for winter heating. Over two million Victorian homes are still connected to gas.
So it makes sense that if Victoria is to achieve the above climate targets, gas use will quickly fall away. But will the desire to preserve life on Earth be enough to shift Victorians off gas?
Fortunately, even if one ignores how fossil gas destabilises our climate, it’s harder to ignore the big economic, safety, health, and national security reasons to move beyond gas in our homes and other buildings.
Getting off gas is good – for our household budgets
In the recent forum, the Victorian Government showed how Victorian households will save thousands of dollars per year when they eventually switch off gas (see graphic) and on to electric cooking and renewable-heat-harvesting heat pumps (e.g. reverse-cycle air conditioners) for space and water heating.
Readers here know that every day across Australia real-world savings of this scale are already being demonstrated inside the energy efficient and gas-free homes of our 50,000 members at My Efficient Electric Home. The move to degasify Victorian homes is accelerating because these amazing economics of electrification aren’t news. We identified these large savings at the University of Melbourne back in 2015. Our work was followed up by Renew in 2018 and since by others.
All gas used in Victorian buildings today is essentially being ‘economically wasted’ because for several years already we’ve had cheaper options. With the Roadmap we now see the Victorian Government recognising this opportunity to save Victorians billions of dollars..
However there are reasons for getting off gas even beyond saving billions of dollars and helping to sustain a liveable climate.
Getting off gas is good – for our own health and safety
Gas can explode, gas can burn, gas can poison, gas can make one chronically ill. I could cheekily ask, what’s not to like about gas?
Imagine today someone came up with the idea of distributing a hazardous and leaky chemical down every street in the neighbourhood. That idea would have no chance of gaining community acceptance.
Recent studies again show that from leaked methane to asthma in our children, we will look back at “cooking with gas” much the same way I think back to my grandmother’s quaint practice of cooking over coal.
Each winter, someone in Victoria succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning caused at least in part by a malfunctioning gas heater.
When you stop burning gas in your home, it becomes a safer and healthier place.
Getting off gas is good – for global security
Recent events in Ukraine highlight once more the role fossil fuels play in igniting international tensions. Germany for example who has long relied on Russian gas “has stopped the certification process for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in reaction to Russia’s recognition of the self-proclaimed republics in … east Ukraine”.
In response to geo-political as well as climate concerns, in Europe as in Victoria, heat pumps (e.g. reverse-cycle air conditioners) are destined to become the “default heating system”.
Prior to the Ukraine tensions, gas prices down here in Australia were already ratcheting up as traditional gas fields such as the Bass Strait finish up. More price rises are in store as energy-supply impacts ripple around the globe.
Even in the USA, the place known as the land of fracking, cities are seeking to move off gas. Unsurprisingly there as here, the powerful oil and gas industry is doing all it can to hold back progress.
What will we substitute for gas?
As to the alternatives to burning gas in buildings, the answer is electrification. We see from the Victorian Government’s presentation:
- “Electrification is a safe, effective and proven technology that can be implemented now.”
- “Energy efficiency and electrification are best placed to reduce emissions and energy bills immediately and free up more affordable gas supply for gas-reliant users, including industry.”
This means we will continue to turn to electricity for cooking and to electrically-driven heat pumps (e.g. reverse-cycle air conditioners) for space and water heating.
But what happened to hydrogen?
What happened to hydrogen? Didn’t the gas industry say they’d be happy to casually switch homes over from fossil gas to hydrogen? Did they not say we would just love the colourful flames?
The Victorian government is aware it would take six times as much renewable electricity to heat a home with hydrogen versus using a heat pump. Victoria isn’t going to be interested in wasting that much renewable electricity on hydrogen for homes.
Furthermore, commercial and industrial gas users are starting to realise the technical difficulties involved with certifying gas-burning appliances once the fraction of hydrogen added to the gas stream goes much beyond 3% (on an energy-content basis).
Australia and our overseas trading partner countries will have plenty of reasons to use hydrogen for metals refining and chemicals processes. However, in winter we will be cheaply heating our homes with renewable heat collected by heat pumps. We won’t be burning hydrogen anywhere near our homes.
Gas industry lobbyists vs networked communities
So being an optimist, I might think that the Victorian government is factoring a lot of good sense into the Gas Substitution Roadmap. But I’m repeatedly unprepared for the strength of the fossil fuel lobbying; the spreading of fear and doubt that comes with the publication of any good ideas.
I well understand the job transition needed for people who are currently making gas appliances or expanding the gas networks, just as I myself chose to transition out of the oil and gas industry over a decade ago. But happily for many there are new “jobs jobs jobs” galore created by the transition.
The fossil fuel industry won’t just decide on its own to meekly close up shop. Indeed, while one Victorian Government department highlights opportunities beyond fossil gas, other government departments readily and irresponsibly hand out approvals and subsidies for more gas drilling onshore and offshore.
Electrification of our homes and other buildings won’t just happen unassisted in Victoria. Fortunately, community groups including the Gas Free Vic Network are mobilising to sustain and accelerate positive actions. You too can get involved.
Tim Forcey is an independent home comfort and energy advisor and researcher.
Formerly, Tim was employed as an engineer in the oil and gas industry.