Five things we learned this week ….about climate policies

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Australia remains the world’s dirtiest country, man for man; do Americans finally ‘get” climate change; will El Nino unhinge Abbott’s political ambitions? the battle begins on renewables, and what price nuclear in Australia?

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Here’s a really ugly graph that should require no further explanation – Australia is the world’s biggest emitter per capita of greenhouse gases from the use of fossil fuels and cement production, and is now at 19 tonnes/CO2-e per person. It has even overtaken the US, which has managed to cut its per capita emissions considerably over the last 10 years.

This data was included in an annual report released by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which revealed that emissions from fossil fuels and cement production rose 3 per cent in 2011 to 34 billion tonnes of Co2-e. This meant that the world had used up one third of its “carbon budget” – the limit to keep average global warming at 2C or below – in 10 years, and would likely consume its entire carbon budget by 2020 at current rates of growth.

Apart from Australia, the only other countries to increase their emissions per capita consistently over the last 20 years are developing nations, and Poland, the coal-belching recalcitrant that is holding back European climate and clean energy initiatives.

 

 The weather vane on climate policies

The devastating drought and wildfires in the US is having an impact on the percentage of US citizens who accept the premise of climate change. A Bloomberg article this week quoted a University of Texas poll, conducted from July 12-16, that found 70 per cent of respondents thought the climate was changing, compared with 65 per cent in a similar poll in March. Those saying it’s not taking place fell to 15 per cent from 22 per cent. Even some Republicans are now putting their heads above the parapet in calling for proper debate on the issue, and for the introduction of a carbon price.

If a Jet Stream stuck in neutral can have an influence on public policy in the northern hemisphere, clearly this creates a dangerous precedent for Tony Abbott, who risks fighting an election on the carbon price and climate policy in the middle of an anticipated El Nino event, which on the balance of probabilities will result in hotter temperatures and drier conditions in Australia. Or can he stop the wind and tow back the current? And if Abbott does win, then it would be a delightful irony that he would be hosting a G20 meeting in Queensland, proudly brandishing his leadership on dumping the carbon price in a state which wants to erase the very mention of climate change from its school curriculum. Advance, Australia Fair!

 

Origin strikes early blow in green energy debate

Former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Bernie Fraser made his first public utterances for a while, now in his new role as chairman of the newly formed Climate Change Authority. He announced the broad outline of how the CCA intends to conduct the review of the Renewable Energy Target, a process that will have an impact on around $20 billion proposed clean energy development, and nearly an equal amount of gas and infrastructure investment. Let the Games begin!

As  any policy wonk will tell you, the best way to capture a policy debate is to be able to define the terms of that debate – just look at the carbon tax/price/emissions scheme with fixed starting point. Origin Energy, one of the most vocal proponents of a change to the RET, has gained an early mover advantage by successfully introducing the concept of a “26 per cent” target into the lexicon of the mainstream media – Origin’s estimate of how much renewable energy will be built under the fixed 41,000GWh target and the current demand curve – which is now being quoted as a virtual fait accompli.

But that estimate is hotly debated by others, who suspect a sleight of hand on the starting point and a double counting of solar PV. Even taking a mid-point in the latest AEMO forecasts, and adding in the electricity demand for Western Australia and the Northern Territory (roughly equating to 2020 demand at 250,000GWh, with 41,000GWh and a full complement of 15,000GWh hydro, it will come in at around 22.6 per cent. If it’s a drought year, and hydro can only provide around 10,000GWh, then it comes in at barely 20 per cent. And given that mild weather conditions have had an impact on falling demand in recent years, El Nino might have a say in energy demand too!

And what price nuclear?

With the RET review about to start, there is some gossip that a new energy technology cost review commissioned by the Australian government is going to produce some heroic assumptions on the cost of nuclear energy in this country. While there is a sizeable chunk of engineers who insist that nuclear offers a low cost carbon free alternative, the low cost assumption appears to be defying evidence to the contrary even in countries where nuclear energy is already well established.

The UK government, for instance, is desperate to get new nuclear built as it has few other options, not having a lot of sun. After seeing most companies dropping out of its nuclear deployment strategy, it is now locked into negotiations with the French government owned EdF for the development of the Hinkley Point facility in south West England offering a “contract for difference” to ensure that the pricing risk is taken out of the transaction. This week, the Financial Times reported that EdF is asking for £165/MWh – or $250/MWh. And that in a country which already has nuclear deployed.

Even in France, often cited as the shining light of low-cost nuclear, the government is finding that it is not as cheap as some think. The French financial daily, Les Echos, reported this week that a Senate budget committee estimated that while most French consumers are only charged 37/MWh ($44/MWh) the “real” cost of its nuclear power – mostly built 20-30 years ago is really 49.5/MWh ($59/MWh), but this could rise to 75/MWh ($88/MWh) by 2017 as the industry responds to post Fukushima security measures. Estimates of French nuclear power costs have often omitted the capital costs which were written off by the government. That estimate does not include the cost of “new nuclear” which is now up for review by the newly elected French Socialist government.

 

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5 Comments
  1. Bill 7 years ago

    A lot of calculations about the cost of electricity generated by Nuclear Plants deduct the value of material produced by the power plants for use in nuclear weapons. When you are looking at any costings, it is worth remembering this as these materials are extremely valuable.

    Many people forget that the history of nuclear ‘power’ is all about nuclear weapons and many people don’t realise that the economics are still tightly connected with weapons production.

  2. Bonzo 7 years ago

    Australia’s “super emitter” status, now confirmed by an independent international authority, is globally embarassing and frankly a scandal on a world scale. But if this is bad just imagine how much worse it would look if the carbon tax were to be abolished under an Abbott government.
    PS. I reckon Australia’s number would have been worse if national rates of population growth were taken into account.

  3. Billabong 7 years ago

    My concern is this: if Bill McKibben’s recent musings are right (on the total clash between staying under 2C degrees,and the use over decades of the total proven [just the proven!]global corporate reserves of fossil fules – which would put us at around 6C degrees) then how do we get a viable future WITHOUT nuclear?
    Answer: desperate efforts to change behaviour now,comprehensively & internationally.

  4. Chris Sanderson 7 years ago

    Re: Five things we learned this week

    Does anyone know what the actual people related per capita emissions in Australia are, excluding industrial emisions?

    In other words what is the actual per capita emissions that result from homes and offices from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and fuelling transport?

    This would exclude emissions generated by purely industrial processes such as cement production.

    It would be useful to discover and compare our strictly people linked emissions with those of other countries in the context of moving towards the global required average by 2050 of 2-3 tonnes per capita.

    Interestingly, if your family and business generate enough of your own solar powered electricity and use it to also fuel your EV transport,etc, your annual emissions will get very close to the 2-3 tonnes p.a. – we know ‘cos we’re doing it!

    If all those that could, did this and landlords installed the equivalent number of solar panels, we would quite quickly reduce emissions towards the target, leaving govt just the task of incenting industry to do the same.

    Getting started unfortunately requires some inspired leadership, which this country sadly lacks.

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