Let’s be clear here – we are not facing an energy trilemma. We are facing one existential threat and two market failures that could easily be fixed with some planning, regulation and appropriate infrastructure.
If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels, there will be devastating consequences globally to health, agriculture, infrastructure and property. The economic, environmental and social cost will be astronomical. And the longer we wait, the harder it becomes to reverse the warming trend.
We cannot eliminate emissions entirely so we must be very selective in our activities so we can try to get back to a level that can be managed by the natural carbon cycle instead of powering on past saturation point.
The fools who say Australia’s contribution is negligible have obviously never done any titration – it’s that last drop that causes the reaction to happen.
In comparison, reliability and affordability of energy are miniscule issues.
It is ludicrous to say we need to open up new gas fields to meet domestic demand when we are the world’s largest exporter of LNG, or close to. As we own the resource, we set the conditions for any approval to develop it. We also have an energy regulator who sets the price, but our watchdogs have seemed impotent in stopping the price gouging that has gone on.
Our government has also significantly driven up power prices. They chose to charge GST on power bills even though it surely falls into the “essential” category. Businesses can claim that back as an input tax credit. Pensioners can’t, so spare me the stuff about pensioners freezing to death over winter because of any clean energy cost – GST far outweighs that.
The government has also caused the reliability issues by its failure to come up with a plan after ditching carbon pricing. This indecision stopped investment in its tracks – investment which would have come online to ensure a reliable transition well before the scheduled closures of coal-fired plants.
Battery storage, small-scale pumped hydro, and other emerging technologies are solving the problem of what to do when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. In South Australia, they are looking at a site in the Spencer Gulf to use seawater for pumped hydro energy storage, addressing the issue of dispatchable power to meet peak demand.
Research is going on into how to harness the power generated by tides or harvest the fuel produced by biological processes. Scientists have used sunlight to turn seawater into hydrogen peroxide, which can then be used in fuel cells to generate electricity.
We need to build appropriate transmission and distribution infrastructure whether that be interconnectors between states or small-scale local grids. We need stricter regulations on prices charged by existing pipeline owners.
A lot can also be done through demand management whether that be from individual consumers being conscious of when they, for example, use their pool pump or from businesses varying their working hours.
More focus needs to be put on energy efficiency in building design. Insulation and rooftop solar should be compulsory in new developments.
Electric cars are coming and we should be planning the infrastructure and businesses we need to support them.
In short, there are a multitude of things we can do to address the affordability and reliability of energy. And many new industries that will provide jobs as they grow to support new technology.
But if we don’t stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, there will be nothing we can do to stop the catastrophic consequences of ignorant greed.
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