In the past decade of Australian politics, no Prime Minister has been able to announce and deliver a new energy policy without sowing the seeds of their own defeat. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull were all undone in part by their large moves in energy policy and climate politics. Years on, since the debates of the Rudd emissions trading scheme and the Gillard mining tax the energy and climate conversations have yet again returned to the forefront of Australian politics, this time exacerbated the SA state wide blackouts of 2016 and the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20.
In the midst of Australia’s first recession since the “recession we had to have,” PM Scott Morrison is looking to energy policy as a road out. He has controversially diverted funding from renewables to gas whilst announcing a Technology Investment Roadmap for new energy technologies with the goal of strengthening the economy, creating jobs and reducing emissions.
From an outsider’s perspective it seems hypocritical that the government’s plan involves a gas led recovery whilst having the goal of reducing emissions. However, this investment is prefaced on the caveat that simultaneous investment in carbon capture technologies will allow Australia to offset the carbon emissions from gas consumed. This plan requires large investment in carbon abatement, carbon capture and storage techniques. These innovative technologies are a key selling point in the roadmap but what are these technologies exactly?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are umbrella terms for techniques and emerging technologies that can be used to prevent up to 90% of carbon emissions. The usage of these are currently being supported by initiatives such as the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and is being used by many companies (such as Tesla) all around the world to generate carbon credits – a type of tradeable ‘certificate’ that represents one tonne of CO2 offset.
Investment in these technologies under the roadmap comprises $50 million pledged towards funding. This is expected to drive research in these technologies and continue projects such as CCS development in the gas and concrete industries. If successful, this will allow the Australian government to continue using fossil fuels for a longer period of time because they will be able to reduce the intensity of the carbon emissions allowing the reduction in carbon emissions to continue.
As mentioned, the Technology Investment Roadmap is a key initiative by the Morrison government to aid in Australia’s recovery from COVID-19. It proclaims to focus on ‘technology not taxes’ with focuses on:
Ruling out a tax to reduce emissions, Energy Minister Angus Taylor promises to spend over $18 billion in taxpayer funds, comprising of $1.4 billion to ARENA (Australian Renewable Agency Area), $13 billion to CEFC (Clean Energy Finance Corporation), $2.9 billion to CER (Clean Energy Regulator), and $1 billion to the CSIRO. The Government also has already made investments in clean energy technology, with more than $10 billion invested in more than 670 projects with a total project value over $35 billion
The roadmap has no definitive date to achieve these emission reduction goals with the only time frame given being to reach net zero emissions at some point in the second half of the century. In comparison to other European countries, critics are urging the government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
Currently, the Australian government aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The target is a step further than the previous target; that aimed to reduce emission to five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. With an emphasis on reducing emissions through carbon capture, clean hydrogen, and batteries technologies, the new technology plan is thought to be a positive move towards fulfilling Australia’s international obligations to the climate change Paris Accords (2015).
Clean hydrogen is one component of the energy deal which touts cleanliness and low emissions. Unlike other energy sources, such as fossil fuel that emit copious amounts of carbon dioxide each year, a shift to clean hydrogen production is aimed to achieve Australia’s emission goals. Clean Energy Finance Corporation, CEO Ian Learmonth, notes that: “We see green hydrogen as offering the most credible pathway to decarbonisation for high emitting sectors and those which lack scalable electrification options. Together, these sectors are responsible for driving some 30% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, whilst clean hydrogen does technically “reduce emission”, there are other environmental concerns that should not be ignored. Gas production requires extensive drilling and extracting processes in oceanic regions. Oftentimes, water can be contaminated which can be damaging to marine wildlife and oceanic ecosystems. Moreover, with oceans producing 50-80% of the world’s oxygen, and absorbs 30% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, it is important to not ignore the potential implications of gas production.
Another tenant of the plan is heavy investment into CCS technology. If successful, this has the potential to reduce the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. Part of the project’s approval is to capture and store between 3.4 million and 4 million tonnes of CO2 emitted from the planet each year. However, it is worth noting that this technology is relatively new with many environmental groups are unhappy, arguing that it should be earmarked for renewable energy instead. This is due to historical failure in Australia such as the Chevron’s Gorgon gas facility in Western Australia which was given $60 million in funding and failed to store any carbon in two years of operation. Despite this the federal government is determined to hold their line and invest in these technologies with the hope that they will improve and work effectively to limit carbon emissions.
Historically, energy policy has held a contentious place in Australian politics. It seems that Australia’s leaders have yet again come up with a controversial plan touting goals of reducing emissions and investment in innovation while actually increasing gas spending. Only time will tell if the government will make good of their promises or if this will sow the seeds for the downfall of yet another political leader.
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Jason is a second-year Data Science student of the Bachelor of Science. I hope to deliver insights from the point of view of a different industry. I am particularly interested in algorithmic trading, fintech, and sports bookmaking.
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