Unpacking the ‘Tech Roadmap’

21.05.20 By

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

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 and unreliable fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas.

“While the government sidelines investment in clean and affordable renewable energy, this ‘roadmap’ will lead to more fires, higher power bills, stranded assets and ultimately job losses” – Climate Council CEO, Amanda McKenzie

We have the technology, we have the solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero. Renewables coupled with energy storage can take us to a net zero future at a fraction of the price of polluting fossil fuels and deliver the jobs needed to set up our economy for the 21st century. Despite renewable energy backed by storage being the cleanest and cheapest form of new generation, the Federal Government still refuses to support the renewables industry, and instead focuses its attention on keeping polluting, unreliable fossil fuels on life-support.

The Climate Council’s new report, ‘Primed for Action: A Resilient Recovery for Australia’, shows that recovery from the COVID-19 crisis presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prime Australia to be a renewables powerhouse, creating jobs and tackling climate change at the same time.

Australia must:

  1. Replace all fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas.
  2. Power everything with renewables.
  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?

In the Federal Government’s plan, there are three areas of focus that are linked to continued growth of fossil fuels. These are all deeply concerning.

These are:

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.

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.

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.

Gas

Gas is a fossil fuel. Gas is dangerous, unnecessary and one of the three key drivers of climate change. Opening up or expanding coal, oil or gas is completely at odds with action on climate change.

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.


Can you power more of our myth-busting and fact checking work by chipping in today?