• Hannah Phillips

Will Labor’s Energy Policy Work?

Labor’ new energy policy has received one and a half cheers from the commentators.

Some of the cynical commentary that at least one major party has an energy policy is just rubbish.

The Coalition has an energy policy that is fit for the purpose: it just doesn’t have an emissions reduction policy.

On the other hand the new Labor policy, which is effectively the Turnbull government National Energy Guarantee with some renewable energy add-ons, is not fit for purpose.

For a start it is very expensive with an additional $10 billion being borrowed for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in renewables projects.

This will be an off-budget balance sheet item.

However the most recent International Energy Agency ‘World Energy Outlook’ reveals that the money spent will probably not be of much use to the electricity supply.

It shows that only 1.1% of current global electricity generation is supplied by renewables.

The WEO report, yet again, projects that global fossil fuel use — and related emissions — will grow out to 2040, as oil, gas and coal continue to dominate the energy picture.

A recent article in the MIT ‘Technology Review’ explains why this is the case.

A study by 24 scientists and engineers from MIT and Stanford makes the case that the nub of the argument is that hydroelectricity and batteries are inadequate for storage purposes once renewable power generation passes a critical point as a portion of total supply.

This is now acknowledged by the large majority of ‘renewable’ engineers, some of whom are now advocating as yet unproven large scale underground thermal storage technology as the answer.

The MIT ‘Technology Review’ is cool on the prospect for renewables dominating electricity generation: “The established view among energy researchers is that it would require making use of nearly every major technology available and that the transition, particularly getting the last 20 percent or so of the way there, would be prohibitively expensive using existing technologies. One of the key missing pieces is affordable grid-scale storage that can efficiently power vast areas for extended periods when wind and solar sources aren’t available,” it says.

The conclusion of the article is a damning indictment of Labor’s renewable policy at both state and federal levels: “… cutting emissions as quickly as possible is a crucial goal. The concern is that paths for getting there will be wrong if they’re based on incorrect assumptions or miscalculations. Among other things, it can skew the public debate by suggesting it’s merely a question of marshalling political will, rather than achieving difficult technological breakthroughs and substantial cost reductions.

“That could lead to spending public resources on the wrong technologies, underestimating the research and development still required, or abandoning sources that might ultimately be necessary to reach the stated goals.

“Notably, there is growing fear that accelerating retirement schedules for the US fleet of nuclear plants will make it increasingly difficult to make the transition to clean energy. While some interest groups remain opposed to the technology, many researchers believe it should be a crucial part of the energy mix, since it’s the only major zero-emissions source that doesn’t suffer from the intermittency issues plaguing solar and wind.”

Substitute coal for nuclear and you have Labor’s policy.

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