One of the biggest gas suppliers in Australia, the listed energy infrastructure company APA Group, has admitted that global gas demand will increase only if the world fails to act decisively on the the Paris climate targets, which aims to cap global warning well below 2°C.
APA manning director Peter Wheal made the admission while presenting the company’s interim results on Tuesday, quoting International Energy Agency data (see graph below) that predicts strong growth in gas demand if the world continues on business and usual, and if “stated policies” are put into place.
But if the world does get serious about meeting the Paris target, and introduces “sustainable development” policies or incentives designed to try and cap average global warming within the targeted range of 1.5°C to 2°C, then gas demand won’t grow, it will actually fall by around 2 per cent.
This is not unexpected, but it is an important context in the light of the Australian federal government’s new push to embrace gas as a so-called “transition fuel” for the when “the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow.”
The fossil fuel industry often cites IEA data, largely based on a “business as usual” scenarios, as justification for future and ongoing investment. But it is rare that one in the industry admits what the impact is if climate change is taken seriously by governments and industry.
Morrison and energy minister Angus Taylor have placed much store in a new gas strategy which seeks to focus on gas as a key “transition fuel” – although such ideas are about a decade old, and have been largely dismissed following the plunging cost of wind and solar, and the emergence of battery and other storage technologies that can likely beat gas as a “firming” fuel on both cost and, by a longer distance, on emissions.
APA, of course, is keen for the Coalition government to proceed with its gas strategy, which aims to open up new areas for gas production, including in NSW through its recently announced bilateral deal, and in the Northern Territory.
CEO Peter Wheal says he wants governments to “take the foot off the hose” of gas supply, an ironic description considering Morrison’s protest during the bushfire crisis that he did not know how to use a hose.
APA has also been chosen of one of two companies that may receive support from the federal government’s controversial, and somewhat mysterious Underwriting New Generation Investment scheme, for a new fast-start gas-fired power station in Dandenong, Victoria.
Details of the Dandenong project are scant, and there has been no comment from either the government nor the company about the scope or the nature of the “underwriting”, and despite repeated questions from analysts on Tuesday’s conference call, Wheal wasn’t giving away any more information.
Wheal dodged analysts questions about the timeframe for the project, the assumed life of the project (30 years would take it beyond the mooted zero emissions target by 2050), its appetite for merchant risk, or the nature of its customers.
Wheal would only say that it assumed no merchant risk, and any outcomes would be subject to agreements being reached with customers and with the government, and in light of the ongoing need for “firming” in the market.
APA operates gas pipelines across Australia, has assets of around $21 billion and is not short of cash – it is expecting a profit before tax of around $1.7 billion in fiscal 2020, and has annual cash flow of more than $1 billion.
In recent years it has invested in around 275MW of large scale wind and solar technologies, including the Darling Downs solar farm in Queensland, the Emu Downs wind and solar farms in W.A., and the nearby Badgingarra wind and solar farms. All serve its existing customers (Origin, Syngery and Alinta).
APA did not respond directly on whether it planned any more wind and solar investments, but indicated that its customers were likely to want to add renewables to their portfolio.
Analysts noted this was particularly the case among miners, where big iron ore companies in the Pilbara such as Rio Tinto and Fortescue are seeking to reduce their exposure to expensive and polluting gas and are investing in solar and batteries, and looking at wind.
“Don’t be surprised if you see a solar farm announced for an exiting customer,” APA executives said during the call.
APA is also looking at “renewable methane” and hydrogen technologies, but on a small scale to test the technology and how it fits within its network of pipelines.