EXPERT REACTION: National Energy Guarantee endorsed by Coalition
The National Energy Guarantee (NEG), the federal government policy designed to bring power bills down while continuing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, has been endorsed by the Coalition party today. Below Australian experts react to the Guarantee and whether it is likely to work.
Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre
These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.
Australia is anxiously awaiting the end of more than a decade of political argy-bargy that has seen a dysfunctional impasse in the alignment of climate and energy policy. The NEG may be the fourth-best solution that's been put on the table during this period, but the nation can’t afford it to be derailed by the Coalition party room as has happened with the other three.
The NEG then needs to walk the COAG political minefield without being compromised as an effective decarbonisation measure – and in this process the perfect should not become the enemy of the good.
The mechanism itself first needs to be de-coupled from the ambition i.e. the politically-charged emissions reduction target needs to be set not in legislation, but by regulation so that it can easily be used as a knob to tune the level of ambition. Second, the states need to be able to set their own targets, but they need to agree to comply with the minimum 26 per cent target to avoid free-riding on the back of higher targets set by other states.
There is a renewable energy train coming down the tracks, which will ride right over the top of this dithering on climate and energy policy if we don’t act now. The NEG can help guide and even accelerate the train towards our climate goal, and future policies such as an economy-wide carbon pricing mechanism can be laid right over the top of it.
It is a depressing fact of political life that the inadequate National Energy Guarantee is probably as good as this divided Coalition government can provide. It emphasises security of supply, one of the three objectives that should be achieved by an electricity policy. Its claim to reduce prices is less soundly based, and the assurance that the average household power bill will come down by $550 a year is just not credible. The NEG’s most serious deficiency is its failure to meet even our legal requirements under the Paris agreement to slow climate change. Since the government has no plan at all to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from transport, agriculture or manufacturing, the lion’s share of our agreed reductions must come from electricity generation. The NEG’s target is totally inadequate. Modelling suggests that the current wave of investment in large-scale renewable energy generation will be stalled if the NEG is approved in its present form. The best way to give security of supply and lower prices would be to encourage more rapid development of large-scale solar and wind with storage. A new coal-fired power station would be financially irresponsible as well as being incompatible with our Paris obligations, which really require the rapid phasing out of existing fossil fuel generation.
Addressing global warming requires a broad approach using a mix of all energy resources to achieve the goal of secure, affordable power, and the required reductions in emissions. One senses a consensus view for changes to the power supply mix spreading from the scientific community to the wider population. Coal is expected to be a major source of energy until at least 2050; increasing reliance on coal upgrading and more efficient coal-power generation technologies is anticipated, and the economics need to be carefully examined. Changes to the mix of power sources are evident worldwide; an important aspect of the mix of baseload power and renewables is replacing old low efficient power stations with new high efficient supercritial and ultra-supercritical coal power. The emissions would be reduced by about half, and these can also be modified with technology that further reduces emissions. Worldwide reviews show a judicious mix of high efficiency fossil and renewable energy use, and futuristic sources such as hydrogen, fuel cells, micro power systems, are logical ways to resolve the problem of the availability, cost, and sustainability of energy resources alongside the rapidly rising demand for power and low emissions. Governments should invest in efforts to develop effective commercial ways for: (1) energy conservation, (2) efficient energy conversion and transmission, that encompasses the entire system life cycle, and (3) global warming mitigation with decarbonising when using fossil fuels, with a judicious use of renewable energy, and supporting new concepts for the supply of energy.
Concerns on climate change resulting from the increased concentrations of Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the major drivers towards a low-, to zero-CO2 emissions future. There are numerous Greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The relative impact of these may be assessed by normalising all to carbon dioxide (CO2), using the Global Warming Potential index (GWP). The GWP provides a comparison of Greenhouse warming for each gas against CO2 set at 1, per unit mass, and per the length of time it remains in the atmosphere. CO2 is chemically stable and stays in the climate system for thousands of years (however it can be fixed through the global carbon cycle). A number of studies by international groups and institutions have assessed the proportions of various gases that provide the Greenhouse gases total; for example, in 2014, estimates of the total are 6,870x106 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, and the distribution to this total, are CO2 81%, methane 11%, nitrous oxide 6%, and fluorinated gases at 3% (US EPA inventory 2014). The methane GWP is 28-36 over 100 years and also includes indirect effects, as CH4 is a precursor to ozone, which is also a Greenhouse gas. The nitrous oxide GWP is 265-298 for a 100-year timescale. The GWPs for chloro-fluorocarbons, hydro-fluorocarbons, hydrochloro-fluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur-hexafluoride can be in the thousands or tens of thousands; e.g., GWP values for CF4, C2F6, SF6 and NF3 are 7390, 12200, 22800 and 17200. Some gases which are relevant to manufacturing of the crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cell and the film silicon module can have a very high GWP (Wild-Scholten et al., 2007).
The impact on global temperatures has been modelled to assess the measures needed to limit it, with a comparison by Dessens et al. (2016) of major input assumptions and outputs of mitigating studies to the 2 deg C average temperature increase by 2100. This comparison indicated that mitigation to 2 deg C is feasible, with the deployment of key technologies and energy efficiency. Tokimatsu, et al., (2015) modelled a number of scenarios on mitigation measures and identified forestry (carbon sinks) and CO2 capture as the major measures for emissions reduction required to achieve the 2 deg C limit.
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