Get ready for blackouts and electricity rationing, says a group of representatives from engineering academies in Australia, Japan, the UK, South Africa and Germany. Meeting under the auspices of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, they said a $25 a tonne carbon price will not head off “inevitable” supply shortages in Australia – unless new capacity is brought on board urgently.
“Energy security for Australia requires a major increase in base load electric power generation capacity to meet the expected growth in demand,” said the group that met at the (ATSE international workshop this month. “This growth is independent of climate change and will still occur even with a much greater focus made on energy efficiency and conservation measures.
“Rationing and blackouts are inevitable in future once economic growth picks up. Governments must establish the necessary long term, stable policy settings now to ensure large scale investments are made in new generating capacity.”
The portfolio of reliable low-emissions power generation technologies is currently limited, with some new technologies such a geothermal still unproven commercially – as is carbon capture and storage – while remaining hydro power resources are “inadequate”, and the intermittency of renewables a problem until cost-effective solutions are found for energy storage.
It underscores the need for “urgent” support to introducing low carbon technologies, given that progressing from the demonstration stage to full-scale commercial deployment can take a decade or more and the technological and financial risks associated with them.
The group said the expected price of carbon under the Federal Government’s emissions trading scheme wasn’t sufficient to drive large enough investments “to demonstrate the commercial viability of new technologies in time”.
It calls for “novel solutions” to push risk down, calling on the government to commit more investments and long-term, stable policies and regulations that will give investors certainty.
“New technologies need large scale demonstration and back up R&D. Given their strategic importance, Australia must increasingly take leadership roles in major demonstrations of the following technologies: carbon capture and storage, geothermal power, solar thermal power, photovoltaics and brown coal drying. With other technologies Australia must engage internationally in large scale demonstrations.”
Perhaps not surprisingly for an engineering group, it makes no mention of demand side measures. Patrick Denvir, the general manager of consulting at Energetics, says demand side management is “the only thing that can be turned on immediately”, compared to the suite of low emissions technologies the communiqué acknowledges will take 10 years or more to be up and running.
Demand side management, such as energy efficiency and peak demand management can “contribute to carbon emissions reductions now, and contribute to energy security now, in a way that low carbon technologies just can’t at the moment,” Denvir told Environmental Management News.
He said other places such as California, New Zealand and Southeast Asia have recorded success in using demand side management as a tool in tempering and stabilizing demand. Australia has the tools, technology and expertise to apply it, and lessons from these other areas can “point us in the right direction in terms of what regulations to have and how to make it work”.
“It is part of the puzzle, when it comes to the challenge on both energy security and climate change,” Denvir said.