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The world is turning its back on our coal, so what’s Abbott’s plan for our future?

The coalition are right about one thing, coal is one of Australia’s top earners. Coal brought in roughly AU $46 Billion in the 2013 fiscal year, and is currently our second biggest export; no matter how much we love renewables no one could argue that a fall off in demand could be very damaging for our nations bottom line. But that is exactly what is happening, our 2013 coal revenue, while still quite robust, was actually down by 3.6% from 2012. And while some may posit that this is just a statistical anomaly, (the 5 year growth trend was up 16% until 2012), not everyone is convinced that what we are seeing isn’t just the first dip on a imminent free fall decline.

Coking coal contract prices that peaked in 2011 at $US330 per tonne, have now dropped to below $US120 a tonne, which is threateningly close to the wrong side of a break even price. So, with demand falling, prices dropping, and mines closing it’s not totally ridiculous to assume that things could be about to get worse for those of us heavily invested in the world of coal.

The sign posts are clearly out there for everyone to see. China has banned the building of new coal plants and has begun dismantling those that it already has, (in fact Chinese experts expect Beijing’s coal use to shrink to less than 10 per cent by 2017). That’s about two and half years away; which is, Mr Abbott, (in case you missed it), alarmingly close.

Base load renewables have been advancing at a rapid pace and are set to take over. As of 2011 the Gemasolar project, located in the Spanish province of Andalucia, (the first fully-operational commercial-scale solar farm in the world) has provided base load electricity generation – 24 hours a day.  Since then the technology has been improving, and new installations like the 394MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility are being put on drawing boards across the globe.

The fact is coal is in its death throws, the only question is how fast will it die? While the Coalition clearly think it will stagger on long enough to see out their parliamentary terms (and secure any post parliamentary perks they may be set to receive from their big mining buddies), trying to hold back the tide of change is not likely to be in the best interests of the nation going forward. We will simply be left behind in the wash up.

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It is not enough for the government to scream “budget emergency” and try to cut all of its expenditure on middle and low income earners. We need a plan for how Australia intends to earn its living into the future! Coal, no matter how much the coalition may wish it, is not going to sustain us into the coming century, (and as things look it may not even sustain us as far as the next decade).  This is the REAL fiscal emergency, and making pensioners pay at the doctors, or cutting young folk off the dole is not going to come even close to addressing this issue.

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So what are our options? First thing is to look at what we already do well. Education is our third highest export earner, (after iron ore and coal), and unlike iron ore or coal (which we export as raw commodities) the education sector is one in which we do a high level of value adding. It is a sector into which we could expand exponentially. We have so many advantages, from being an English speaking nation, low crime levels, high degree of cultural diversity, and of course a quality product.

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fund our future

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But what is the coalitions vision? Cutting course funding and hiking costs for local students is hardly likely to raise the quality of our educational institutions or their international standing. We have Christopher Pyne disingenuously citing the global league tables for universities, ignoring the fact that the system of academic ranking is weighted heavily toward research institutions, where as our universities are more geared toward teaching and employment outcomes. (Although that said Melbourne University is still ranked in the top 50).

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NBN

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Infrastructure projects that could bring in off shore students, increase international partnerships, advance research outcomes and encourage course sharing, like an effective NBN, have been scuppered with a heedless disregard for their economic potential or their necessity. Instead we are building more roads and dredging in the Great Barrier reef.

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RIP REEF

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Which brings me to number six on our list of top exports (or number two on our list of non-mining earners), tourism and travel. Has Greg hunt got rocks in his head? Unlock the pristine Tasmanian wilderness (one of the states greatest tourism assets), dredge the great barrier reef, for a coal port? What the hell is thinking? Tourism’s “brand Australia” is not primarily our cities; we don’t have the museums and galleries full of cultural treasures like London, New York, Paris or Berlin. We can not compete with the ancient ruins of Greece or Rome or Egypt, what we have is pristine wilderness. We have the reef, the rock, the beaches, the forests, kangaroos, kolas and the outback. So why would we put our wining hand in the environmental cross hairs? This is utter madness.

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Another sector that has a great deal of as yet untapped potential is agriculture, (when aggregated Australia’s agricultural exports are actually our third largest earner). Australia is uniquely placed, as an island continent, to provide high demand heirloom agricultural products, that are untainted by GMO and GMO pollen drift, (an issue that has seen much of the USA’s agricultural output banned from sale in the EU and other markets across the globe). It is also an area in which there are huge opportunities for value adding. And yet what is the government doing? Cashing in on the issuing licenses for coal seam gas exploration and extraction across swathes of our best farming land. Recklessly ignoring the issues of ground water contamination, massive releases of the greenhouse gas methane, and post extraction land contamination. They are cynically trying to assuage public opinion by quarantining minute portions of “farmland”, while actually leaving most of our farms up the proverbial polluted creek.

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FARMS NOT GASS

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There are so many things we do well. Scientific research for example; although we don’t even have a science minister at the moment, and the government is trying desparately to cut funding to the CSIRO. Biotech, or retooling the automotive industry toward the burgeoning renewable sector, Australia has a lot of options, but the government appears to be ignoring them all in favor of throwing its support behind the coal and broader mining sectors.

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Untitled 2

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In spite of Hobbott’s hysterical rhetoric we don’t have a lot of debt, so is it really prudent to put the brakes on the broader economy, and pull large amounts of money out of the system just when are facing seriously declining sales of one of our lead products?

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Granted I am not an economist, (although they seem to get it wrong often as not), but I am someone who has been in business, and I know this much, if the market for what you are selling is falling you need to invest in new product lines, and sooner rather than later. Selling down what you have, not investing in new product lines, and keeping your fingers crossed in the vain hope your customers will return is a sure fire recipe for business failure.

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Just as Christopher Pyne keeps telling us (vis a vis education), those that invest in their future will earn more in the long run; but for some reason the government seems incapable of rationally applying this logic to our nations’ current account. Instead they are trying to convince us the world is not actually moving forwards, and we Aussies will be happily shipping coal for years to come.

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Maybe they are right, and we will all ride the wave of coal fired global warming to infinite wealth and happiness, but just in case that does’t work out for us, I for one would like to know, what’s the plan B? Because simply cutting all government spending is not going to help us if the bottom suddenly drops out of the coal market, and we’ve failed to make other plans.

So please, tell us Mr Abbott, where’s the vision, and what is the plan?

…..

63 comments

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  1. Lee

    Jesus is returning so it doesn’t matter how we damage the planet. We won’t need it for much longer. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

  2. Sir ScotchMistery

    It would be excellent to see Abbott and his coal junkies not last as long as the coal itself. Who would they go to for their rorts then?

  3. Anne Byam

    Another great article from you, Letitia –

  4. Kaye Lee

    From what I am reading, Adani and GVK are going to have trouble raising the finance for their Galilee Basin projects.

    India is imposing a clean energy tariff on imported coal.

    “Indian companies having coal mines abroad, such as Adani, Tata Power and GVK, will have to redraw their strategy.

    They are staring at increased costs, with the new Union Budget proposing to increase the clean energy cess on imported coal from Rs 50 a tonne to Rs 100 a tonne, and to raise the basic customs duty on bituminous coal to 2.5 per cent from the earlier two per cent.

    Adani and GVK have coal mines in Australia. Tata Power has one in Indonesia.

    All were planning to mine coal abroad and import it to India to fuel their power stations. Analysts now say it will be cheaper to produce the coal in India.

    The move may also negatively impact power and metal producers based on imported coal, including JSW Energy, Nalco and Hindalco.

    Adani group and GVK have said they are looking for partners to sell part of their stake in their Australian coal mines and railway projects.”

    http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/increase-in-clean-energy-cess-on-imported-coal-adani-gvk-and-tatas-to-redraw-foreign-assets-114071400060_1.html

  5. Dan Rowden

    The fact is coal is in its death throws, the only question is how fast will it die?

    I don’t understand this sort of claim. Coal has a natural and inevitable limit but “death throes”? How do we imagine the developing world is going to provide power to its populations? Solar? Give me a break. We have not even remotely gotten beyond our need for fossil fuels. The exigency to do so certainly exists, but the ability does not.

    I would like those who don’t want to see any more coal mines open turn off their power for 2 weeks and then see how they feel about it.

  6. Kaye Makovec

    As they proved in Opposition not a single LNP member has the nous to actually think let alone put two thoughts together.
    They are all so bloody minded set on revenge against everybody they think didn’t vote for them, the ‘leaners’ and the ‘lefties,’ that they can’t see past this week let alone past the end of their term in government.
    And they don’t care what happens as they will not be held accountable but will sit around smirking while continually stacking up the expense sheets.

  7. Letitia McQuade

    Dan Rowden, with all due respect, things have changed A LOT in the last 3 years and the changes keep coming faster than anyone thought possible. We are about 2-3 years away from economically viable storage for off grid commercial and residential solar applications. Base load solar thermal is an on gird reality NOW… (storage for night time and steam hotter than coal…) I invite you to google it… Tesla are introducing consumer model electric cars in the next 12 months and their battery technology is making a major leaps forward, bringing the economically competitive viable electric cars a matter of 2-3 years away, tops!….

    We need to prepare for this… it’s coming and it’s coming MUCH FASTER than most people realise…. and as for “anti coal people turning off their power, in case you haven’t realised it they don’t have to… I have 5k of roof top solar, and take renewables off the grid, (but even so, I still use much less than I produce)… I invite you to join me…, my electric bill NEVER features a “usage” charge anymore… :-).., welcome to the new world…

  8. Olivia Manor

    Excellent article but sorry to be an apostrophe pedant. It is ” its back” NOT ” it’s back” which really changes the meaning of the heading!

  9. Letitia McQuade

    Thank you Olivia… I am endlessly fiddling with my apostrophes… I don’t know how I missed it…. that is so embarrassing

  10. Dan Rowden

    Letitia,

    With all due corresponding respect, you are wrong. We do not have anything like the capacity to run power needs via solar or any other form of renewable energy. Civilisation, as we know it, is not based on what certain private households can achieve. It involves a whole host of manufacturing, engineering and technological dynamics that cannot be replaced by alternative energy forms – yet.

    I absolutely support research and investment into alternative and renewable energy (which is why I said the exigency exists) and any resistance to that strikes me as bizarre, but the notion that we can suddenly stop fossil fuel exploitation is just as bizarre.

  11. Letitia McQuade

    Dan, clearly you have not done your research…. the tipping point is coming… and faster than most of us realise… and yes there is some life in the old dog yet, but we are foolish in the extreme if we are not laying the foundations to sustain us when its inevitable demise finally hits us… and it will be faster than you think

  12. Kaye Lee

    We can’t suddenly stop but the price of getting the coal out of the ground is becoming a bad investment. I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries follow India’s lead and put a tariff on imported coal. I know they want to discuss penalties for countries that are not pulling their weight in Paris next year.

    These companies pay royalties to governments to develop our resources but only if it returns adequate profit on investment and that is already a line ball. If they can’t make megabucks they will cut their losses (which many are already doing) and the coal will be ours again. Mining to supply what we must for our own use would be far preferable to tripling our output through exports to line the pockets of foreign investors who couldn’t give a rat’s about damage to the reef.

    We could also insist that we use Australian steel and machinery and labour. Adani signed a deal with a South Korean firm for the railway in the Galilee and Gina had to promise to use American steel and machinery as a condition of her $7 billion loan to develop Roy Hill.

  13. Dan Rowden

    Letitia,

    Dan, clearly you have not done your research…. the tipping point is coming… and faster than most of us realise… and yes there is some life in the old dog yet, but we are foolish in the extreme if we are not laying the foundations to sustain us when its inevitable demise finally hits us… and it will be faster than you think

    Yes, I’ve not done any research, and yet, you ostensibly agreed with me. Ok.

  14. Letitia McQuade

    If you must Dan :-), it’s all good :-), Oh and thank you Anne, and Kay…for your always informed and valuable contributions,

  15. Douglas Evans

    @DanRowden
    If you are suggesting that we do not yet have the technological capacity to make the transformation to renewables you are wrong. Although technological advances continue to drive down prices and increase efficiencies, currently available technology is more than adequate to the task. The problems are political and logistic not technical.

    Letitia
    If you are suggesting that because we know how to do it, it it can or will happen quickly enough to save our collective bacon the experts seem to be saying that you are probably dreaming. Rather than get wordy I suggest you have a look at these links and tell us what you think:

    http://duggyvans.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/climate-and-us-part-one-last-roll-of.html
    and
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/big-coals-trillion-dollar-fear-of-climate-policies-un-masked-by-iea-84300
    and
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/iea-rapid-change-needed-in-way-we-supply-use-energy-73222

    It is probable that the massive coal export ventures we feared will not eventuate and that many billions of dollars will be wasted. Certainly Abbott’s incredible denialism is worsening the problem but decades of delay by successive Australian governments of both persuasions put us so deeply in the hole that there was probably no way out by the time this government came to power anyway

  16. Dan Rowden

    Doug,

    Show me some evidence – rather than mere opinion – that shows that industry can run on renewables.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Dan,

    I agree we can’t convert immediately but we can reduce. Remote locations are finding renewable energy is cheaper for many things rather than relying solely on trucked in diesel.

    “The outback mining town of Coober Pedy will be run on 70 per cent renewable energy, thanks to a project grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

    The $18.5 million grant will assist electricity provider Energy Developments Limited to set up a diesel hybrid project that will integrate up to 2 MW of solar power and 3 MW of wind generation into the existing 3.9 MW diesel power station.

    ARENA sees mining as a huge potential off-grid user of renewable energy in Australia and has made it a priority to work with major mining companies to find solutions and overcome roadblocks associated with integrating renewable energy into off-grid locations.

    ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the project was ambitious, and would demonstrate a combine renewables/diesel approach for powering remote locations that depend on expensive, trucked-in diesel.

    The project will also involve short-term energy storage, fast-start diesel engines and an advanced control system.

    Frischknecht said that diesel hybrid power generation is suitable for various resource industry applications, especially in remote areas, as it delivers lower operating costs than conventional power generation.

    “From our perspective, this is a very important initiative as energy demands in the resource sector are growing pretty strongly,” he said.

    “So this off-grid market, particularly in the resources sector, is exactly where you want to be focussing investment, on the opportunity for making long-term cost reductions through renewable energy.”

    http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/coober-pedy-on-track-for-renewable-energy-hybrid-p

  18. Douglas Evans

    Dan
    Not opinion there is plenty of evidence but I’m not Wikipedia. I suggest you spend some time catching up with Renew Economy particularly Giles Parkinson and Climate Spectator. It’s a complex field and you gotta catch up yourself but these links might interest you. http://www.dw.de/denmark-leads-the-charge-in-renewable-energy/a-17603695
    http://energytransition.de/2013/11/denmark-surpasses-100-percent-wind-power/
    http://www.iea.org/countries/membercountries/denmark/
    If they can do it why can’t we? Repeat problems not technical but political and logistic.

  19. Douglas Evans

    Kaye Lee
    Not just remote areas but also capital cities. Solar and wind have already reached so called ‘grid parity’ for much of the country. On a level playing field economically speaking they are already ahead of fossils almost everywhere – as if that mattered given the ‘costs’ of not making the transition. Try googling ‘Giles Parkinson renewables grid parity’ you’ll get plenty of food for thought.

  20. Kaye Lee

    It turns out that wind and solar photovoltaic are only unable to meet electricity demand a few times a year. These periods occur during peak demand on winter evenings following overcast days that also happen to have low wind speeds across the region.

    Since the gaps are few in number and none exceeds two hours in duration, there only needs to be a small amount of generation from the so-called flexible renewables (those that don’t depend on the vagaries of weather): hydro and biofuelled gas turbines. Concentrated solar thermal is also flexible while it has energy in its thermal storage.

    The gas turbines have low capital cost and, when operated infrequently and briefly, low fuel costs, so they play the role of reliability insurance with a low premium.

    http://theconversation.com/renewable-energy-is-ready-to-supply-all-of-australias-electricity-29200

  21. Douglas Evans

    Kaye Lee
    …and if Mark Diesendorf says so you can believe it. No-one knows more about this topic than he.

  22. Dan Rowden

    Doug,

    Are you seriously suggesting that Denmark’s energy needs are analogous to Australia’s? Don’t you think that’s as stupid as the idiots on Twitter who try and make a point of Iceland’s situation?

    I suggest you look at fracking in Denmark.

    Energy alternatives, to the extent they are even viable for global industry, will only be considered when the shit hits the fan, and we have no way of knowing when that will be. If it was up to me every new home would have a roof made of solar panels rather than tiles. Every garage, every shed, every factory roof would be covered in them, but that, of course, requires an entirely new economic paradigm. It also requires mining. How much silicon is there in the world?

    We’re pretty much screwed unless we actually begin to address the issue of the finitude of resources, not just energy.

    What we need to do is find a way to change our DNA so we can photosynthesize. At least the Vegans would be happy.

  23. Kaye Lee

    Insert genes from bioluminescent bacteria and bob’s yer uncle. The photosynthesizing adaptation is a great idea but remember…it’s not easy being green.

  24. Lee

    Germany has a population of 80 million and is managing to generate half of its summer time requirements for electricity from solar energy.

  25. Anomander

    Why the government keeps supporting coal beggars belief. The mining boom has damaged our environment, distorted our dollar, destroyed our manufacturing sector, made our education sector uncompetitive, eroded our agricultural exports, sent hundreds of billions of dollars overseas and imperilled our future climate.

    All for what purpose? So politicians could have their election campaigns funded?

  26. Peter Wade

    Dear Dan I’d read about disruptive technologies. Couple solar , Ev’s and storage and you have an economic no brainer. Tony Ceba explains the history of disruption with statistical and relatable evidence. Hello India ..it’s your iPhone calling 🙂

  27. John Fraser

    <

    With coal prices low Australia's exports are still setting records.

    Smaller coal mines across the world are closing because they cannot compete when coal prices are low.

    Add to that the low cost (but not to the environment) CSG/LNG industry in the U.S.is closing coal mines.

    Renewables are the future …. but at present cannot compete with coal (and CSG) due to many government/economic/ideological reasons.

    Kaye Lee is right … Adani are having trouble finding finance, but Queenslanders are unaware of that because Adani appear to be running advertisements to assist the newman LNP get re-elected, probably a part of their "in confidence" agreement to get the contract to build a rail line to the coast. (a rail line that was "called in" by the newman LNP …. thereby taking away the right of the landowners to negotiate directly with Adani) all part of the dirty tricks newman LNP.

    Make no mistake about it the Great Barrier Reef is in great danger because of these fcukers.

    Not a lot of tourists are going to come to Australia to look into empty holes and scarred landscapes.

    Great Article Letitia.

  28. Lee

    Nice. Thanks John.

  29. Dan Rowden

    Lee,

    Re: Germany – domestic power or industrial? It’s great that nations are moving to greater usage of renewables, but please don’t analogise the logistics of that with Australia. 135,236 has to be dealt with differently to 47,796,02 square miles.

  30. Anne Byam

    @ Dan … I think, this time, you have a few things screwed up.

    While it is not possible to suddenly shut down coal production ( that would be bloody stupid ) the entire idea of renewable energy is an ongoing ( or SHOULD be ) developing situation.

    I have no idea how the Northern Hemisphere cope with it, but some of them do – very well. A couple of the top producers of wind / solar generated energy are :

    ——– Norway’s renewable energy sector has developed to serve the export market rather than domestic consumption. If you look at Norway’s generating capacity it would be around 98% renewable —– ( pity they export their energy huh ? … AB )

    ——— Iceland – Built as it is on a volcano, Iceland has tapped the earth’s natural warmth to supply 85% of the country’s housing with heat. Between geothermal and hydropower, the electricity supply is 100% renewable energy. Iceland has so much geothermal capacity that their ambassador to Britain is in discussions about whether or not they could build an interconnector into the UK grid. —–

    and …

    ——– Albania – with large scale hydroelectric facilities, Albania used to be a net exporter of electricity. Unfortunately droughts have seriously reduced the capacity of its dams, and along with widespread corruption and the stealing of electricity, there are now power shortages. Nevertheless, the country runs on around 85% renewable electricity. —-

    “Albania” ??? you might say. Despite what they have done, they still run on 85% renewable electricity. Scoff all you like, but renewable energy is being developed, used, and continually reconstructed to get the best from what sun / wind the Northern Hemisphere gets. Sweden has umpteen wind farms ( they ain’t pretty but serve a purpose ).

    Imagine please, how much solar energy WE might get – being one of the hottest places on earth, with oodles of sunshine – even in winter. We are geographically better equipped to utilise this natural resource, than Northern Hemisphere countries.

    AND we are only 22.68 million people ?? I cannot understand your reluctance to accept these possibilities for us.

    A good start is with domestic residences. You are worried about the production of silica ( silicon ) … and it is indeed a scarce commodity – from it’s normal sources. But there are many other sources from which it can be obtained. Look it up.

    Thing is – we have to make a start – somewhere, and believe me – science being what it is, the other sources of this precious element will be looked into and developed.

    Just bein’ positive here ……. 😉

  31. storm

    dan, the technology and capacity to get complete baseload power from renewables exists and is completely achievable within a relatively short timespan. Anyone saying otherwise is just a victim to the fossil fuel industries lies and misinformation. the only people preventing us from transitioning to a sustainable economy in the near future are the energy company and coal mine lobbyists who want to maintain their monopoly on the outddated, centralized system. they are a bunch of profiteering, anti-progress scam artists, who are swindling the entire nation ruthlessly.

  32. Anne Byam

    p.s. to Dan ….. 70% of Australia is classified as desert … the remainder holds us Aussie bods. !! So solar and other renewable energy has to uphold 30% of the land mass – and almost 23 million people. A shoe in….. if it’s done properly. ( which ain’t about to happen with THIS bloody Government ).

  33. Anne Byam

    Douglas Evans ….re : comment ( Aug 25th, 8.39 pm )

    The problems are ALWAYS political and logistical …. rarely technical. Techie bods, who work hard for reasonable wages still want to KEEP their jobs and wages. Therefore, I doubt they would make any waves.

    It’s the big wig powers ( political particularly ) who will step on everyone’s toes, and cause major problems.

    So – yes I agree ….. for what it’s worth.

    btw …. ( and I cannot be fussed to research it at after midnight !!! … but I will – later ) … did anyone hear that we have entered into some collaboration to sell uranium to India ?

    Or in my ( now ) befuddled state, from rummaging through all these comments etc., …. did I dream that. ? Thought I heard it on a TV newscast.

    Anyone else hear about that ?

    AND … what might it mean – in the long run. ???

  34. Anne Byam

    Very well said Storm ………….

  35. Lee

    “135,236 has to be dealt with differently to 47,796,02 square miles.”

    mmm yeah it does. For starters, there’s a lot less space to hang out the solar panels, and almost 4 times the population to do it for.

  36. Douglas Evans

    Dan@9.55 above

    What an odd comment. Where are you getting your information? Of course Denmark’s energy needs are comparable to Australia and any other advanced western economy, what would make this not the case? – high energy intensity, high material standard of living, developed industrial base – Denmark with obvious disadvantages compared to Australia (long cold winter with markedly reduced availability of solar energy relative to Australia) is a perfect example to take. Remember, the question you raised concerned the technical viability of a mass transfer to renewables specifically whether they could accommodate the needs of industry. You demanded evidence not opinion – here it is. The example of Denmark clearly shows the answer to your question is yes. Even with a reduced solar component renewables can accommodate the needs of industry. Denmark already sits on 43% renewables. The Danes are aiming for (and will achieve) 70% renewable energy by 2020 and aim for total renewable by 2050. Whether they can manage to totally switch off non renewable energy is still questioned but the answer to your question is plainly yes. I repeat: If Denmark (with its clear disadvantages relative to Australia) can do it, why can’t we?

    There are other lessons to be learned from Denmark’s shift to renewables. First, the renewables industries are a substantial employment creator and source of export income. In 2010, the Danish energy technology sector accounted for about 10 percent of the country’s exports. In order to continue being a market leader, Denmark has invested heavily in research and the promotion of renewable energy, energy-efficient technologies and renewable heat supply systems. Every year, the sector is responsible for creating around 6,000-8,000 new jobs in the country of 5.5 million people. That could have been us but (as usual) we missed the bus.Forty years ago Vestås, today a massive Danish wind turbine manufacturer (one of the world’s biggest) was a small rural business employing about 100 people building agricultural equipment for Danish farmers. Then came the first oil crisis. Denmark, totally dependent on imported oil and coal for power and heat, suddenly saw its vulnerability and decided to do something about it. I lived in Copenhagen at this time and know just how profound the shock was to the Danes. The second lesson to be learned from the Dane’s achievement is that it has taken them forty years of consistent effort to get this far and by their own estimation it will take them another thirty five years to complete the transformation. Most of the rest of the developed and developing world has barely started. Even allowing for the possibility that everyone else might be more desperate or smarter than the Danes (we’re not) and can complete the transformation in let’s say thirty years that is still decades too late to avoid runaway warming.

    It is a sad irony that, with the tipping point for the Greenland ice sheet already upon us, little low lying Denmark, with its 7300 kilometres of coastline is going to be largely submerged unless they can manage a very, very long sea wall over 10 metres in height. It will take a couple of hundred years for the Greenland ice melt to raise the sea levels by around seven metres but this will be Denmark’s thanks for all that earnest effort.

    I don’t know what you think you know about fracking in Denmark but this is what Wikipedia thinks.
    “In 2012, the first research for shale gas has begun in Denmark, where Total E&P Denmark B.V., a subsidiary of Total S.A., has been granted two exploration licenses in collaboration with the Danish State’s oil- and gas company, Nordsøfonden.[11] The exploration license, which runs until 2016, covers the two areas Nordjylland and Nordsjælland, where the geological characteristics are expected to provide the best potential for shale gas.[12]

    Danish national media have so far covered both pros and cons of shale gas production and fracking,[13][14] and a minor NGO has been formed to protest against shale gas.[15] The acknowledged green think tank Concito has produced a report that states, that it will be both practically and technically feasible to establish shale gas production in Denmark without having to fear of contamination of drinking water or the release of methane from wells.[16]”

    Looks like nothing much going on at the moment doesn’t it?

  37. Dan Rowden

    Anne,

    @ Dan … I think, this time, you have a few things screwed up.

    While it is not possible to suddenly shut down coal production ( that would be bloody stupid ) the entire idea of renewable energy is an ongoing ( or SHOULD be ) developing situation.

    Yeah, I have things screwed up and yet this is exactly what I said. Sigh.

  38. oldfart

    Actually, it would not be a bad strategy for when the next climate change meeting comes up. All nations attending sign up to an agreement that applies an import tariff double the going price on carbon. This would be applicable on imports from nations without an ETS or price on carbon.

    Watch Tony and Co quickly get in touch with their green side, when their backers get slugged with the tariff.Amazing how quick the hip pocket nerve will react..

  39. Kaye Lee

    We made the New York Times Editorial

    “The differences between Mr. Abbott and his predecessors are striking. In 2007, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called climate change the “greatest moral challenge of our time.” Mr. Abbott seems more concerned with the challenges that a carbon tax would pose for his friends in the coal industry. “For many decades at least,” he has said, “coal will continue to fuel human progress as an affordable, dependable energy source for wealthy and developing countries alike.”

    At a time when President Obama is seeking emissions limits on new and existing power plants, and when many scientists are arguing for major reductions in fossil-fuel use by 2050 to keep global warming within manageable limits, Australia — among the world’s highest emitters per capita of carbon dioxide — has chosen to become an outlier.”

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/opinion/australias-retreat-on-emissions.html?smid=tw-share&_r=3&referrer

  40. jimhaz

    [What we need to do is find a way to change our DNA so we can photosynthesize]

    Perhaps then the word “sugardaddy”, would have a real meaning.

    “During photosynthesis, plants, algae and some species of bacteria produce sugars and other energy-rich substances (i.e. fuels) using solar energy. A team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim an der Ruhr is currently developing experimental methods to ascertain how this process occur in nature”

    http://scitechdaily.com/prospects-development-clean-fuels-improving/

  41. diannaart

    How much longer can the old-energy purveyors keep making excuses?

    With more to be gained than lost by transitioning to clean, sustainable energy sources, still we prevaricate.

    Just the following alone should provide sufficient impetus:

    http://www.ben-global.com/StoryView.asp?storyID=824241663&section=Business+News&sectionsource=s1450118

    Savings from healthier air can make up for some or all of the cost of carbon reduction policies, says an MIT analysis.

    Measuring CO2 emissions
    Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because they also cut other harmful types of air pollution.

    But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same carbon reductions in the US and found the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

    “Carbon reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” said Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT.

    “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

    Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three possible climate policies: a clean energy standard, a transportation policy and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed US climate policies, with the clean energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

  42. Jezza

    Letitia, you mention:
    “Tesla are introducing consumer model electric cars in the next 12 months and their battery technology is making a major leaps forward, bringing the economically competitive viable electric cars a matter of 2-3 years away, tops!…. ”

    So let’s say in 10 years the majority of new cars sold are electric, has anyone done a forecast on the electricity demand on the grid in 2025 when all cars are sucking down kW at the ‘petrol station’?

    Electricity consumption would shoot through the roof. so agree we need to get the infrastructure in place to then figure out how to escalate it for future demand.

    (Need some solar conducting paint on these electric cars to add a slow charge to the battery on sunny days).

  43. Lee

    My partner is an electronics engineer with an interest in converting a car to run on electricity. He says they are economically viable now. Their ongoing maintenance expenses are considerably less, which is why manufacturers of current vehicles aren’t really interested in developing them. They stand to lose a fortune from daylight robbery…er… selling spare parts.

  44. Erin

    New contributor here – This comment is not exclusively, but predominately targeted at Dan:

    Beyond Zero Emissions bze.org.au have done extensive research into how Aust can transition to 100% renewables – for all sectors – residential, industrial, commercial – the whole box and dice. You can download this peer reviewed, award winning report at http://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-australia/stationary-energy-plan

    The only deficiency in this report is that it is a couple of years old now – and the costings are no longer accurate – they are now cheaper.

    My other comment is in relation to Electric Vehicles. Few people yet grasp the impact of EVs in terms of the (positive) effect they will have, on the electricity grid. Effectively creating a distributed battery (ie power) storage capacity. This can have huge impact on managing and minimising electricity peaking levels.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaWruGLgLlE

    Also consumers are on track to become pro-sumers – Consumers and providers. There is huge potential for individuals to become a closed circuit energy pro-sumer. Let me paint you a picture: Well insulated home, solar system, EV. There will also be a huge movement to onsite storage – and EVs will provide this in two ways: on wheels as vehicles, and in a secondary market as repurposed 2nd life EV batteries as a domestic bank. A Tesla Model S – re-purposed 2nd life battery could power a home for 2 – 3 days – with NO sunlight.

    My only other comment Letitia, is that I would refer you to The Australia Institute – Mining the Truth Report – that outlines what a small employer the Mining Ind actually is and that in perception vs reality – the only big thing is foreign ownership. Mining as an industry crowded out other sustainable industries and for a time was one component of driving the dollar up – putting huge pressure on manufacturing, tourism, education, ag exports – really all exports – all and singularly which are much bigger employers than mining http://www.tai.org.au/node/1777

    All the Taxes, and
    All the Royalties, from
    All the Mining Companies, in
    All the Country,
    Make up less than 5% of Governments’ Revenue
    Source: TAI

    There are so many reasons to be out of mining – including a big one of subsidies. Give Renewables a level playing field http://www.tai.org.au/content/mining-age-entitlement

    So in summary – Abbott has no vision, and Mining ha a much bigger perceived value to Aust than the reality. Coal is dead.

  45. Letitia McQuade

    thank you Erin…. great links, and comments

  46. rupafitz

    Congratulations Letitia, easy reading, good research, sensible conclusions. Smart lady

  47. Dan Rowden

    Erin,

    That’s all great, but I have to say to you in all honesty, scientists involved in pathology and psychology don’t constitute “experts” that Beyond Zero Emissions can quote and expect to be taken seriously. I’ll look over some of the technical stuff but that’s a really poor start …

  48. Anne Byam

    Dan …

    How unkind of you. While you might believe what you have said ( you wouldn’t have said it otherwise ) …. to take to a new contributor to this site, in the way you have – was uncalled for. ….. I am reading ( unless you have left out a word or whatever ) that you are telling Erin that she has made a ‘really poor start’. If I am incorrect in reading it that way – kindly correct me – I have no doubt you will.

    I am unable to access the link to bze.org.au at this time, but will pursue it a little later.

    Some of your acerbic comments are quite irksome – at times.

  49. Kaye Lee

    Anne,

    I believe Dan meant that BZE quoting pathologists and psychologists is a poor start – there might be scientists, engineers, economists etc who may be more technically credible when discussing zero emissions.

  50. Anne Byam

    You’re probably right Kaye. It did however, read rather strangely – to me at the time. It’s now got me intrigued as to what the psychiatric and pathology involvement in Beyond Zero Emissions, really is !! … Will pursue that …… 😉

  51. Dan Rowden

    The BZE looks interesting on the face of it. They seem to have put an enormous amount of work into it; however, all I can do is make a vague assessment as I do not possess the technical expertise to know if their claims and ideas are actually scientifically/economically viable or whether it’s all pie in the sky stuff. I haven’t looked over the entire site yet but does anyone know if the previous Labor Government looked at it seriously? If not, why not, I wonder.

    Anne – what Kaye Lee said. I do wish their “testimonial” list contained more people in appropriate fields, but it’s not that big a deal …

  52. Douglas Evans

    Dan Rowden
    BZE is certainly to be taken seriously. Their best known piece of research the Stationary Energy Plan linked to above (now a couple of years old), while it had its share of critics, substantially advanced the discussion of what might be possible. Their follow up study on the built environment was not useful and was ignored. On Stationary Energy (power generation) they disagree substantially with Mark Diesendorf (who Kaye Lee linked to above) and just about everyone else, over how quickly the shift to renewables can be achieved. Knowing some of the key figures behind the BZE study reasonably well, who were/are (?) all Melbourne climate change activists, I trust Diesendorf (who BZE regard as unreasonably conservative). BZE was founded and headed for a number of years by a charismatic, incredibly energetic ratbag, now moved on. The difficulty of working with this guy caused a couple of really excellent people to shift, one to a Sydney NGO, the other to The Australia Institute. I think the group is just beginning to find its feet again.

    Erin
    The costings in BZEs Stationary Energy Plan were by no means the only criticisms made by very serious and qualified people against the study, there was plenty of discussion pro and con around the time of its publication and not all the criticism was baseless. Ultimately its chief value was in stimulating discussion around what might be possible. I absolutely agree with you about the value of The Australia Institute’s research into mining.The conclusions they reach are irrefutable I would have thought and should make it impossible for government to give this vampire industry the red carpet ride it has always received. Unfortunately neither Coalition nor Labor are listening.

    I have a sneaking feeling we have met. Could that be? I was with YCAN for five years until last early year when I decided I was getting too old and grumpy and should leave the climate change struggle to those younger and more optimistic.

    Letitia McQuade
    Unless there have been substantial changes since I left my academic position seven years ago the long (or even medium) term prospects of the education export market which you mention favorably, are not good. First, as a mass market it was never likely to be more than a finite proposition while developing nations in our region brought their own educational infrastructure up to speed. This was already affecting numbers applying to study here when I retired and although other countries have come ‘on-line’ to cover for those in decline it’s only a matter of time before numbers of applicants from these nations too begin to decline. Second, the flip side of this coin is the inexorably growing reliance of academic programs on the revenue from full fee paying overseas students to deliver their courses at all. When I retired (if I remember correctly) the cohort of new full fee paying overseas students into our undergraduate program was about half the size of the local intake. I’ll bet it’s larger now. The fees charged to overseas students were originally only intended to cover the increased costs of servicing increased numbers of students whose grasp of spoken and written English was often poor (presenting its own substantial problems) but as income from this source increased, recurrent funding from governments of both ‘persuasions’ (starting with Labor education minister John Dawkins) decreased so that now recurrent funds would typically cover less than half of what is required to deliver an undergraduate degree. Far from being a ‘nice little earner’ as one might suppose education export is:

    a. a windfall gain that only exists by virtue of shifting external circumstances (a bit like a mining boom).
    b. the cloak that conceals the hollowing out of the tertiary education sector by both Liberal and Labor governments since the 1990s.

    I presume that long term, Australia will always have a niche share of an educational market servicing the sons and daughters of those of the region’s wealthiest anxious to give their children an overseas educational experience, but it should be remembered that in this market we compete with more prestigious (but more expensive) alternative destinations in Europe and North America. Our advantage there is in our relative cheapness. The long term prospects of education as a major export earner are not good.

  53. Sir ScotchMistery

    FWIW it’s also important to bear in mind, that most countries going “renewable first”, are actually doubling and tripling the number of jobs involved in the industry, so more than compensating for the loss of mining jobs, and many of the jobs in mining are construction anyway, so they could transition to renewable industries anyway.

    Problematically, “big mining” doesn’t have the intellect to see beyond lunch time tomorrow, and understand their only way forward is to taint the government, of whatever colour, which they do very well indeed.

  54. Anne Byam

    Dan …..

    Had a look at the BZE site, and it is indeed quite comprehensive. I could find no ‘testimonials’ there, perhaps I didn’t look hard enough.

    The board of management seem to be made up of people with well defined interests – technical, academic, scientific, environmental, towards a better and sustainable future for us all, with an aim of course, to zero emissions. Whether this would be possible or plausible in our life time, … I have no idea.

    While BZE have many volunteers to help their cause, I could find no reference at all to psychologists or pathologists being a specific part of it all. Although, when one thinks about it, pathology ( the effect on the body / bodily tissues of toxic emissions ) … and psychology ( the effect on the mental states of people subject to breathing in toxins on a daily basis ); it would make sense to include those studies. Their input would help to complete some of the picture.

    What I am saying really is, the aims of BZE seem highly technical, but that’s not all that can be considered. Not by a long stretch of the imagination. They are creating ideas to better our way of life ( which this ridiculous Government won’t listen to anyway !! ) … and must cover all aspects of that endeavour.

    They have one helluva big job ahead of them …

  55. Lotharsson

    “How do we imagine the developing world is going to provide power to its populations? Solar?”

    I seem to recall that local power generation *systems*, quite heavily biased towards renewables, would do pretty well for the developing world. (And you must ask about power *systems*, not frame the question purely in terms of individual generation technologies.)

    The useful thing about “greenfield development” where there is little in the way of entrenched operations or sunk costs is that all options are on the table, not just those that pander to the existing operators and operations, and that often changes what the best choice is. And in much of the developing world power requirements are well below the kind of energy intensity we “require” in the West and (IIRC) are expected to remain so for quite some time. But beyond that, if we had a serious goal to go almost entirely renewable, from what I’ve seen it looks like we could build systems to achieve that without major advances beyond the kind of technologies we have today.

    Even more importantly, the (apparent) skeptical tone of your post appears to play down the far more important question for those that actually have a concern for the developing world, and that is: how do we imagine the developing world will cope with the consequences of climate change if we screw them over by continuing on with business as usual?

  56. Lotharsson

    “I would like those who don’t want to see any more coal mines open turn off their power for 2 weeks and then see how they feel about it.”

    This is a disingenuous rhetorical ploy – or it reveals a serious lack of reading comprehension. Either way it does you no credit. No-one – but NO-ONE – is advocating turning off coal power before alternatives are put in place. They are advocating putting the alternatives in place *so that* fossil fuel plants can be retired.

  57. Lotharsson

    Comment removed – previous version showed up.

  58. Lotharsson

    “Energy alternatives, to the extent they are even viable for global industry, will only be considered when the shit hits the fan,…”

    This is not a particularly useful conceptual model. It’s not a question of _when_ the shit will hit – in part because it started hitting the fan quite some time ago, but more importantly because “shit hitting the fan” is not an either/or proposition, it’s a matter of degree. In that light, the question is how much _more_ shit per year we will allow to hit the fan before we decide to get serious about change.

    And to dig deeper, other useful questions are “for given levels of shit hitting the fan, who gets hit by how much of it?” and “how do we deal with people and organisations who are generating far more than their share of shit and/or getting hit by far less than their share of shit?”

    To put it another way, framing this as a binary proposition (and/or the same for everyone/every business around the globe) will lead to poor conclusions. Instead of “when will alternatives start to be considered?” ask yourself instead what forces will drive emissions reductions over time and how strongly they will do so. (Or if you’re purely concerned about the investment implications, ask yourself “What is the risk in various timeframes of fossil fuel prices suffering a significant decline due to the tipping point of demand falling well below supply, and what is the corresponding risk to the Australian economy and budget? “)

  59. Lotharsson

    “135,236 has to be dealt with differently to 47,796,02 square miles.”

    Yes, it does (although your numbers appear to be off – Australia is about 7.7 million km^2, i.e. about 3 million square miles, and Germany is about what you said).

    But disregarding that, the comparison doesn’t make Australia’s situation look harder, it makes it a heck of a lot easier. Germany has almost 4 times as many people packed into less than 5% of the land area of Australia AND gets quite a bit less sunlight per square metre on average than we do and yet they are still able to supply a significant amount of their power requirements from solar.

    They make our efforts look seriously piss-weak, almost as if we have powerful forces that wish to nobble any challengers to fossil fuels (and who don’t give a crap about the global or longer term consequences). Australia should be a solar energy world superpower given the embarrassment of riches we are blessed with.

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