California is the 10th biggest economy in the world, with a population of 38 million and GDP 50% higher than Australia’s. Yet they have a total carbon footprint almost 25% lower than us at 450 million tonnnes.
If we look at efficiency of electricity use we find that they can service their 38 million population with 292 megawatt-hours of electricity where we require almost as much (261 MWh) for a population of 22 million (2010 figures). And when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation their footprint of 93 Million tonnes is less than half of ours (207 million tonnes), despite them generating more power.
The defenders of fossil fuels in Australia will, no doubt, point to our energy hungry resource companies and California’s large Hydro and Nuclear power generation. But let’s look at some facts. Resource companies do use a lot of energy and they have little incentive to use it more efficiently. When riding on the back of a boom in resource prices, why bother saving a few million here and there on your power bills? This is shown up in the overall productivity of our mining companies which has dropped by an average of 5.2 per cent over the last decade – every year!
Close behind mining in the negative productivity growth rates is – yes, you guessed it – electricity and gas (together with water and waste). Their productivity has reduced by 4.1% each year for the last 10 years.
The miners will argue that their poor performance is due to the high investment during the mining boom. But go back before the boom and their productivity has been little better.
This inefficiency, particularly in our power generation and usage, feeds our greenhouse gas emissions.
California, with a population of 38 million, has a MWh per capita of 7.7 compared to Australia’s 11.8 and their power generation industry has a CO2e intensity well under half of Australia’s.
Add all those together and California’s power produces 2.4 tonnes of CO2e per Capita compared to Australia’s 9.4 tonnes.
It is true that part of this is due to 42 per cent of California’s power coming from Renewables, Hydro and Nuclear compared to our 7.5 per cent (2010), but the main cause is our dirty power plants, particularly in the Latrobe Valley. Closing one of these would be a great start to reducing our total footprint, and what better place to start than Hazelwood Power Station which produces 1.5 tonnes for every megawatt-hour of electricity they produce.
Closing that alone would reduce Australia’s Greenhouse gases by some 16 million tonnes a year and a recent article has argued that, with the reduced demand for electricity over the last five years, existing power stations could take up the slack with a much lower emissions factor – and make them more profitable.
Better still would be to replace Hazelwood with wind power. Wind power is cheaper than building new coal or gas power stations, even without a subsidy if the wind is good. And with the emissions trading scheme, we may even be able to get those cocky Californians to pay for it. But more on that next month.
In the meantime, we are repeating and extending out Breakfast Seminar – “Profit Opportunities in the Low Carbon Economy” – to cover Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide as well as repeat showings in Sydney and Melbourne. More information here: carbonreductioninstitute.eventbrite.com.au
Rob Cawthorne is Chief Executive Officer of the Carbon Reduction Institute