First thing first, this scheme won’t amount to a hill of beans unless the Paris climate targets are adopted, and that does not mean the modest down-payment from the Coalition on which this blueprint is modelled, but a serious attempt to deliver on the pledge to limit average global warming to well below 2°C.
Quite why the chief scientist didn’t choose to make much of the chief science questions is a bit of a mystery, but he did underline the importance of bipartisan and federal and state agreement on this. The reaction, to date, shows this is as difficult now as it was when the climate-denying, fossil fuel-backing Coalition hard right thrust Tony Abbott to the head of the party in 2009.
Can we see some modelling please? The actual energy blueprint is vague on details. Some results of the modelling are shown, such as the modest fall in consumer bills (above), and the lingering presence of coal-fired generation in 2050 (25 per cent).
But the inputs are not revealed, neither are comparisons with other options, or how they are stress-tested with a 2°C target. Most consumer watchdogs would warn against buying something with so little information, and no warranties, but that is – in effect – what we are being asked to do. Or, at least, may be what the Coalition back bench is being asked to do.
Don’t leave the clean energy target mechanism in the hands of the gentailers. We saw what happened with the renewable energy target, as the big gentailers fought to have the target cut, then went on a capital strike, and then cashed in as the prices for renewable energy certificates were pushed to their penalty level.
The gentailers have too many vested interests to protect, so a better and more efficient mechanism would be for a new authority to auction capacity at various points along the target. This has been used very effectively across the world, and at state level too. It gets a good price and avoids the market being held to ransom.
Be smarter about energy storage. There is no doubt that many solar plants, and wind farms, will be happy to add battery storage to their installations, and Finkel’s report acknowledges that these combinations will beat either gas or coal on both costs and emissions. But Finkel’s proposed obligation for ALL new wind and solar plants to have storage seems like regulatory overkill, adding unnecessarily to prices.
Only in South Australia has the penetration of wind and solar reached a level where storage is now required, according to the CSIRO, which suggests that anything under 40 per cent wind and solar is “trivial” to the management of the grid (presuming the grid managers are on top of their brief). So making a no-argue requirement now seems overkill, and the approach of the Victoria and Queensland state governments – calling for bids for cheapest storage – as they roll out more wind and solar seems more sensible.
Make this transition quicker, smarter, cleaner. As we noted last week, this is not Grid 2.0, it’s actually not a whole lot different from business as usual. This review was an opportunity to redefine those boundaries, but comes up short, mainly because it does not focus enough on the implications and the benefits of all the solar and storage added behind the meter by households and businesses. The CSIRO estimates $200 billion will be spent by consumers over the next three decades.
They will want to know that this investment is worth it, and they are not locked in to a utility business model that has failed to evolve, and continues to impose costs on consumers. Indeed, half of their bills comes from the transport of electricity, which means that even if the wholesale component was free, it could not match the cost of solar and storage. Which does not mean, for a moment, that everything would go off the grid, or should; but unless there is some regulatory recognition that technology changes and costs are moving fast, then they will simply not be prepared to deal with it.
And let’s not forget, all consumers will be wanting more than $90 savings a year over the next decade after seeing their bills going up $300 a year. That’s one step forward and three steps back. There is simply no reason why more savings cannot be delivered, given the falling cost of wind, solar and storage.