Unpacking the ‘Tech Roadmap’

22.09.20 By

The Federal Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap ignores the urgent need to reach net zero emissions well before 2050.

The only viable recovery for Australia from the economic impacts of COVID-19 is to reorient the Australian economy toward net zero emissions and step up as a global renewables-led powerhouse.

The Federal Government’s “roadmap” puts the interests of the fossil fuel lobby ahead of the interests of Australians. We need a plan to remove all fossil fuels from our economy. Technology will play a role, but it is a tool, not a destination. Climate change does not stop intensifying until we stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Until then, climate-driven bushfires, devastating droughts, mass coral bleaching and extreme heat will continue to be ratcheted up, putting Australia’s economy, communities, environment and health on the line. Australia must move away from polluting fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas.

We have the technology to make deep inroads into rapidly reducing Australia’s emissions. This roadmap sidelines the solutions that work and instead focuses its attention on keeping fossil fuels on life-support. The Coalition Government has never lent strong support to the clean energy solutions that work.

We have every natural advantage that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero. Renewables coupled with energy storage can take us a long way down that path at a fraction of the price of polluting fossil fuels, and deliver the jobs needed to set up our economy for the 21st century. Renewable energy like wind and solar – even when backed by storage – have been the cheapest form of new generation for some time, and are providing the reliability our major grids need, while bringing down power prices. The Australian Energy Market Operator says we can firm the grid with zero emissions sources and save money overall, but this government is still chasing pipedreams of a gas-led recovery.

The Climate Council’s ‘Clean Jobs Plan’ identifies twelve policy opportunities that will quickly create 76,000 jobs. These jobs will be for the people who need them most, and will work towards re-engineering our energy system, renewing industries and restoring our environment. We need to be creating jobs now, and solving long-term problems.

Governments have a crucial role to play in making targeted investments, and implementing policies that can put Australians back to work. In doing so governments can choose to invest in initiatives that set us up for the future, creating win/win solutions that create jobs and tackle long-term problems like climate change.

Read more about the Clean Jobs Plan here.

Australia must:

  1. Replace all fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas.
  2. Power everything with renewables as soon as possible.
  3. Step up as a global exporter of zero emissions energy, technology and services.
  4. Take action on the land and coasts to boost resilience and productivity.

 

An image of the 4 steps to a renewable recovery for Australia.

So what’s in the Government’s Roadmap?

Energy Minister Angus Taylor says the Roadmap will guide $18 billion of Commonwealth investments towards five priority technologies. This $18 billion is not new money linked to the roadmap, but a tally of existing commitments made to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Emissions Reduction Fund and CSIRO. Many of these commitments were made by previous governments.

The priority technologies are:

The roadmap includes price goals for each of the five priority areas, aiming to reach the point where the cost of the technology is competitive with existing alternatives (like wind and solar).

For example, the Federal Government wants hydrogen production to cost less than $2 per kilogram by 2030, regardless of whether it is produced using renewable energy or fossil fuels.

It is important to remember that the success of the Technology Investment Roadmap relies on the Senate passing legislation that changes the investment rules of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), that has been revealed over the last fortnight. Read more about this here. 

While the technology roadmap is not a plan for climate action, the Climate Council believes it does have some green shoots, which should be acknowledged.

The Good   Energy storage, soil carbon
The Bad  Hydrogen produced with gas, Carbon Capture and Storage, No net zero emissions target
The Ugly  There is no climate plan still 

 

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology which could be used to capture, transport and store pollution from high-emitting sources such as fossil fuel power stations and energy intensive industries. Normally this occurs through injecting the captured greenhouse gases back into the ground. Its backers claim that it can be used to reduce the impact of emissions intensive industries like cement, steel and chemical production.

After decades of research and billions of dollars invested around the world, the performance of CCS has been underwhelming. To date, every single project has seen significant delays and massive cost blow-outs. Wind and solar become cheaper and cheaper each year. CCS will never be able to follow that same pattern. It will always be expensive because the nature of CCS is that every project is unique.

Proponents of CCS make a lot of Chevron’s Gorgon gas project in Western Australia. This project is big, but it’s also a big failure. It was several years late to start after being plagued by difficulties, and spent several years belching greenhouse gas emissions in violation of its environmental approvals. Even now that Chevron has finally begun to do what it  promised the project would, the facility is still capturing less than half of what is required

When attached to fossil fuel developments – like coal, oil and gas – CCS can never be a climate solution for a simple reason: Global temperatures do not stop increasing until emissions reach net zero. Even if it works—which it very rarely does—CCS is extremely expensive and cannot deliver zero emissions. With the long operating lives of CCS projects, they are not a solution to coal, oil and gas emissions but rather, lock in fossil fuel emissions for decades. The only solution is to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

CCS paired with fossil fuels is simply an attempt to prolong the life of ageing, polluting fossil fuels in our energy system.

Hydrogen

When the term ‘hydrogen’ is used in the energy sector, it refers to a simple molecule of two hydrogen atoms: H2. Creating hydrogen uses a lot of energy, and splitting it apart releases that energy again. This means that generating hydrogen, then using it, works a little like charging and discharging a battery.

While hydrogen is unlikely to outperform a conventional battery in the near future, there is huge potential for hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in areas that are difficult or impossible to address in other ways, like steel-making and long-range transport. Hydrogen can be used in many other sectors as well, from fertiliser production to simple energy storage.

Hydrogen can be created via a number of different methods. “Brown” (brown coal), “black” (black coal) and “grey” (gas) and “blue” (any fossil fuel with CCS) hydrogen all involve fossil fuels. While blue hydrogen combines fossil fuel-produced hydrogen with CCS technology, this only means that it captures some of the greenhouse gas emissions. It cannot capture all of them. All of these forms of hydrogen will push global temperatures higher and further exacerbate climate impacts such as deadly bushfires.

The Technology Investment Roadmap has also invented its own term – so-called ‘clean hydrogen’. To be clear, this term is simple spin: clean hydrogen is nothing more than an attempt to rebrand fossil fueled hydrogen in a way that makes it sound appealing. Clean hydrogen is used by the Technology Investment Roadmap to re-brand fossil fueled hydrogen with CCS. Even if this CCS can be made to work – and CCS never delivers what is promised – making this form of hydrogen will still release a very large quantity of greenhouse gas emissions.

Just one type of hydrogen – so-called ‘green hydrogen’ – which is hydrogen generated through renewable energy, is capable of playing a role in our zero emissions future.

A graph explaining the different types of hydrogen energy.

As the sunniest and one of the windiest countries in the world, there is no reason at all to invest in hydrogen powered by polluting fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas.

This past summer of devastating bushfires, drought, extreme heat and floods, and more recently the third mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in five years, have shown why we can only accept solutions that set Australia on a trajectory to zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Australian communities, fire fighters, farmers, doctors, businesses, local and state governments have all heard the message. It is time the Federal Government did likewise.


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