One of my biggest disappointments with the Australian government is their lack of commitment to fostering a more sustainable future. In particular, our approach to renewable energy has been half-arse at best. Now, I am not suggesting that they have done nothing, but if we are honest with ourselves, they definitely could have done a lot more. It is the role of government to implement changes which are best for us as a society, not what is best for big business....
Let me try and explain.
*For the sake of simplicity, I will focus mainly on solar energy w.r.t renewables. Additionally, while this post is about Australia, a lot of the information applies to other countries as well.
Australia arguable has one of the highest potentials for solar energy generation in the entire world. The amount of solar energy that bombards Australia is simply ludicrous, as shown by the solar energy map below. This map illustrates how much solar energy (in kWh/m2 per year) is radiated on different parts of the country on an annual basis.
Basically, anything that is yellow or above is a viable location for the installation of solar panels. Anything in red, is considered bloody amazing. As you can clearly see, it is almost all entirely RED!!!! So, with the exception of Tasmania, chances are that if you live in Australia, solar panels are likely a viable source of power generation.
So @strongerbeings, why hasn't Australia taken advantage of all that solar energy goodness, and become a world leader in solar energy technology. After all, you are known as the SUN BURNT Country.
Well.. That's a very good question. But first, I want us to look briefly at your power bill.
Your Power Bill
When you are paying for your electricity, you are paying two main charges, a connection charge and a usage charge.
Usage Charge: This is the amount most people think of when they are paying their electricity bill. Put simply, you are charged based on the amount of electricity that you use. If you use more, you are charged more. Generally speaking, the rate at which you are charged is fixed on a quarterly basis by your energy provider.
Your energy provider in turn buys the electricity you use on the Energy Market, where the price of electricity can fluctuate based on the demand. If the price on the energy market increases too much, your energy provider is allowed to increase the rate the next quarter.
Sexy looking solar panels
Connection Charge: The connection charge is what you pay for the privilege of being connected to the electricity network. This money is meant to be used to pay for the energy infrastructure that is required to transport the power from the source of generation to your home. Think power transformers, and the poles and wires you see around. This is what you are helping pay for. The connection charge is a fixed charge, which means you pay the same amount regardless of your energy consumption.
Connection Charges pay for Network Infrastructure like transformers, poles and wires.
Of the two charges, what dictates the connection charge is not well understood by consumers, and to explain the full process is beyond the scope of this post. However, understand that because network infrastructure businesses are natural monopolies, they are regulated by government bodies to help prevent them from price gouging consumers.
What this means, is that price increases and charges are essentially pre-determined in advance by a government body, and somewhat guaranteed. This is one of the reasons why overseas investors are so eager to buy up Australia's energy infrastructure. The revenue stream from this type of business is very predictable up-to a four year period.
There are good arguments against and for the sale of energy infrastructure. However, if we are looking at how much control our politicians have on impacting our energy bill, they have the most power when the government owns the energy infrastructure business. If the government does not own them, then the only real way of reducing our connection charges is by changing the regulatory processes or the law to incentivise lower costs.
Why did I explain this?
If you understand how you pay for your goods and services, you also gain a better understanding of the motivations and actions behind these businesses. There are very few businesses that will put profits below the well-being of society. Plus I think its interesting to see where your money actually goes.
In short, the resistance from industry, and the stance taken by the government on renewables boils down to money. No surprise there right? There are many "solid" arguments against the adoption of renewables. In this section, I will try and explain the rationale of two, as well as provide some reasons why I believe it is in our interest as a country and planet to move past them.
Oversupply of Energy Generators:
One of the most common arguments against more solar panel installations is that Australia already has abundance of fossil-fuel power plants to generate electricity. They argue that the installation of more solar panels/renewables is wasteful, as we already have enough power generators to meet demand. The installation of more renewables will displace existing jobs, and will further accelerate the closure of existing power plants.
also Australia has SOOO much coal.
It is true that Australia has an oversupply of energy generation. However, a large number of the fossil-fuel power plants being shut down are very old, being built in the 1970's and 1980's. Additionally, these power plants are being shut down, because they are too costly to operate, and hence cannot compete on the competitive energy market, on which electricity is traded. The introduction of more sustainable sources will further reduce electricity prices, as it will increase supply. THIS IS GOOD FOR CONSUMERS, bad for existing energy generators.
With respect to the job aspect, renewables are expected to create more jobs than they will destroy. What makes the argument even more shaky is that a lot of existing power plants are scheduled to be shutdown over the next twenty years due to their age. Hence, it is in our interest to start transitioning now, when we have an over abundance of electricity generating capacity, and the pressure of meeting demand through renewables is lower.
Unreliable Supply of Power
The energy generated from renewables is not reliable. When there is no sunlight, wind, etc, the amount of electricity generated can fluctuate widely. As a country we need a steady source of power, and fossil-fuels currently provide the most reliable and tested means of achieving this.
Yes, while renewables have less predictable energy outputs, this risk can be largely mitigated through the usage of energy storage technology. Some of which have been around for decades. The most obvious include large scale lithium or chemical batteries, but pumped-storage plants are also a viable solution, and a well-proven method of storing energy.
When the network is generating excess electricity, these plants use that energy to pump water up to higher ground into a reservoir. When the network needs more power, these plants release water from the reservoir. The water then flows through hydro-generators, that convert the potential energy back into electricity.
While initially, the implementation of these systems will be expensive, this is to be expected, as we venturing into new ground. Yes, in the short term, from a financial perspective we are better off just using fossil fuels. However, the use of renewable energy sources in the long-term offer a very clean, cheap, and less complicated means of generating electricity.
If we invest in renewables, we benefit for the foreseeable future, and aid in the efforts to save humanity and planet earth.
If we continue to invest in fossil fuels, we further concentrate power to those that control these resources. Not only at a financial expense, but also at the expense of our entire planet.
Government Actions that have hurt renewable energy in Australia
There are too many to list here, so here are three which I believe have been very damaging.
Abolishment of the Carbon Tax: The carbon tax was designed to incentivise businesses to actively reduce their carbon footprint. And it Worked!! Until it was axed... Conveniently, some of the subsidies given to fossil-fuel reliant companies to help them with the transition remained....
Government subsidies to support fossil-fuel & coal mining projects: The most recent being the government's support for the Adani Coal Mine in Queensland. Dredging and dumping from existing mining operations have devastated the Great Barrier Reef. A natural world wonder. And our government is promoting a super coal mine which would arguably increase these activities. Seriously, WTF government?
Bleaching of The Great Barrier Reef. What have we done.....
Significant reduction in Residential Solar Panel Rebates and Feed-In Tariffs: The government introduced these schemes to help with the uptake of residential solar panels, and was part of Australia's effort to meet our renewable energy targets. It worked extremely WELL, and even my parents, who are in the low socio-economic bracket installed a sizeable system. However, a change of government later, the scheme was reeled in significantly, causing a slow-down in the installation of new residential solar panels.
The Australian government have had many opportunities to do the right thing by us, and the environment. I think the Australian public are reasonable people, and are willing to go through minor discomfort if it meant that as a country, we became better prepared for the future. Being a politician is hard, I get it, receiving "donations" (read bribe) from businesses is nice. But I urge you, for the sake of Australia, and that of our planet, start making the tough decisions. That is after all, what we elect you for.
As always, if you have read up to this point. Thank you so much. I welcome all comments and opinions regardless of their stance. I think it is important to understand both sides of the picture, and hopefully, through this understanding we can come up with a solution that will better humanity.
If you wish to sign the petition to save The Great Barrier Reef, here is the link: https://www.acf.org.au/reef