Federal government officials have conceded that the estimates of cost and emissions abatement guiding its much-vaunted technology roadmap are little more than thought-bubbles, and derived from departmental guesses rather than an authoritative and independent source.
The technology roadmap, the draft of which was reported by Nine Media newspapers on Monday, is heavily focused on gas and carbon capture and storage and is being developed as an alternative to the Morrison government setting more ambitious emissions reduction targets.
The roadmap is likely to be used to justify the redirection of taxpayer funds into fossil fuel and carbon capture and storage projects, including by raiding two leading clean energy funding bodies, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
One particular chart included in the roadmap consultation paper triggered the interest of many energy market analysts, as it appeared to make unprecedented claims about the abilities of some unproven technologies to reduce emissions at very low costs.
In correspondence seen by RenewEconomy, officials from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said that while cost estimates for electricity generation technologies had been drawn from sources that included the CSIRO’s GenCost assessment, the department was less clear on how it had determined the cost of firmed renewables and the potential emissions reductions.
Notably, the chart appears to show that renewables firmed with gas can be achieved at a lower cost to renewables firmed with battery storage or pumped hydro storage, while achieving the same level of emissions reductions. The roadmap also did not consider the lower costs of unfirmed wind and solar, with AEMO’s Integrated System Plan find that not all projects will require firming services.
In response to a freedom of information request lodged by The Australia Institute, a spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources conceded some of the figures included in the technology roadmap consultation paper were “simply departmental expert judgment”, and had not been drawn from any independent research.
“The size of the bubbles in the discussion paper’s charts do not relate to any specific quantum of abatement due to a lack of data and projections. The size of each bubble is simply departmental expert judgment of the relative opportunity of technologies, presented to start a discussion about abatement potential,” the spokesperson said.
“We didn’t calculate how much capacity is added for each generation type, how much electricity is generated for each generation type or how much gas is used.”
The Australia Institute senior researcher Tom Swann said that the response showed that the technology roadmap was full of government ‘thought bubbles’ and that significant decisions about future government energy policy were being made on the basis of unsubstantiated information.
“The Department of Energy has admitted its Tech Roadmap is literally full of thought bubbles with no basis in analysis,” Swann told RenewEconomy.
“The draft Roadmap presented colourful graphs without any detail on assumptions or even the data points used in the graphs. This is no basis for energy policy or consultation, as The Australia Institute objected in our submission.”
What an absolute mess. pic.twitter.com/dclKMv4U1t
— Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0) May 21, 2020
“The Department repeatedly ignored our requests for clarification, resulting in a long battle over an FOI request. The Department now admits the bubbles, representing the size of potential abatement, were “simply departmental expert judgment”, which is a way of saying they were simply made up,” Swann added.
The Morrison government has faced calls from environmental groups, the clean energy sector, as well as former executives of both the CEFC and ARENA to abandon plans to open up the agencies to fund fossil fuel and carbon capture projects.
“While the Roadmap purports to show more gas is needed to integrate more renewables, this is in fact cooked up and baked into the assumptions,” Swann added.
“The Roadmap treats all wind and solar as needing firming, which is false, and ignores AEMO’s Integrated System Plan and other studies showing lowest cost means much more renewables in the system and much less gas.”
When queried by RenewEconomy, a spokesperson from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resource sought to walk back suggestions that the data included in the technology roadmap consultation paper represented guesswork.
“The charts summarise an economy-wide survey of more than 140 new and emerging technologies,” the spokesperson said. “This survey relied on data from more than 100 published sources, supported by expert advice from scientific and technical agencies across the Commonwealth, including ARENA, the CEFC, CSIRO, the Clean Energy Regulator and the Office of the Chief Scientist.”
“The Department stands by the accuracy of the information contained within the discussion paper.”