Cook in uniform frying potato in skillet on the restaurant's kitchen. Focus is at skillet

COMMENT: The Victorian government has opened the door to the end of gas in its state; it’s a big job. But quite frankly it needs to shut the door. We have alternatives.

The Betoota Advocate might be having some fun with its spoof showing premier Daniel Andrews cheering elatedly to get the big V (virus) back to the state so he can do what he’s highly skilled at – lockdowns (Sydneysiders need not cheer; they might wish their own premier could glean some better lockdown skills: another recent spoof doing the rounds nominated 43 reasons you could legally leave your home in Sydney during lockdown (including “shopping for essential lingerie, Christmas decorations and cocaine”).

But, in view of the all the bad news from “the big V” it’s good to see the Victorians embarking on another big challenge, its new Gas Substitution Roadmap, which is getting a fairly good rap from environmentalists but with some caution on the carefully tailored open ended remit voiced on the consultation side, no doubt because of sensitivity on how the gas industry might react.

Officially, the roadmap will “detail the transition pathways and?identify?policy mechanisms to achieve Victoria’s emissions reduction targets through reduced fugitive emissions, more efficient use of gas, electrification and increased use of hydrogen and biogas while maintaining energy affordability, security, reliability and safety” a formal media statement said in response to an inquiry from The Fifth Estate. 

It’s a huge job because there’s a huge gas legacy, thanks to the generosity of Bass Strait offering up its gas deposits when the fossil fuel miners went looking for oil.

Consequently two million homes are hooked up to this pollutant, which in the home, used for cooking only, can bequeath you the same health impacts as smoking (we’ve recently been made painfully aware).

Industry in particular has become addicted to gas and with the state’s strong manufacturing sector there’s a special challenge there to wean it off the stuff.

Beautifully, the official statement also says that while all this is bad it’s also an opportunity for the state to “take bold, innovative action and be a leader in the adoption of zero emission energy technologies and practices.”

Here’s the Gas Substitution Roadmap consultation paper released on 26 June if you want to make a submission.

It will be interesting to see what the gas industry does to counter the move, which inevitably it will. Will the song and dance be as aggressive as we’ve seen from the oil and coal industries?

Certainly, fightback has begun, mostly through soft emotional appeals to householders to keep sticking to the nice blue flame. The idea is to make it appear harmless and friendly, like a campfire under the stars.

Then there are the chefs who are pressuring designers of corporate kitchens in office buildings to keep the gas on so they can whip up a cordon bleu for the guests. Completely unnecessary now with induction cooking reaching maturity.

The thing is, says Rai Miralles climate and energy analyst for  Environment Victoria, gas for cooking is only 4 per cent of total usage. But it’s the most important 4 per cent. It means to service this you have to maintain the gas infrastructure, which is why the observers are wary of the call for hydrogen, green though it might be.

Miralles says the government’s done an overall good job so far; the only criticism he has is that it’s leaving the door ajar on alternatives and pathways such as hydrogen when the time in front of us is short and critical and really, we no longer lack certainty on alternatives.

We already have highly developed electrification and energy efficiency, solar thermal, biomethane and there’s other a technology that might come in the future, Miralles says.

And “it’s great we’re having this conversation” but there is the question of how we move forward.

Sure there’s a level of uncertainty in relation to certain gas uses, for instance industrial uses that need high temperature.

“They would be hard to electrify and hydrogen might play a part. But for other uses we have mature technologies that are affordable and accessible like heat pumps for residential.

“To make it sound like an open question that we need to figure out might be a disservice especially considering the target to get to net zero.”

“To make it clear we are not against hydrogen especially when we don’t have all the right technology; we need to be open minded, but at the same time we need to be practical.

“We know it will be more expensive than gas. Even with conversion from renewables to hydrogen you have energy losses and it will be more expensive than supplying electricity.”

This at a time when we know people struggle with bills.

And already “electric batteries have won the competition”. Green hydrogen might play a role in more heavy vehicles and in industry and feedstocks.

On carbon capture and storage, Miralles says, we know it’s been a failure pretty much everywhere. We shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

When there is uncertainty we need to be open minded, he says, but when the answers today then let’s just get on with creating the new model.

Miralles says the mantra needs to be “use as much electricity as possible and as much hydrogen as we need.”

Will the gas industry go down without a fight?

“I doubt it. We’re following this process with a lot of interest.” And wondering if the gas industry’s submissions will be made public.

“But even the gas industry itself knows it’s in trouble and adopting a tactic of delay rather than assume they will be here forever.”

Tina Perinotto

Publisher and Managing Editor of The Fifth Estate. More by Tina Perinotto

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