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Posts Tagged ‘australia

The Unavoidable Green Future

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Excellent article in today’s New Matilda – The Unavoidable Green Future (will open in new tab/window). It’s an interview of Ben McNeil, author of The Clean Industrial Revolution. Here’s my favourite bit:

“Right now we’re in the same position in Australia as GM was in the 1990s. We’re protecting high-carbon assets. We’re protecting coal, we’re protecting oil and we are looking at carbon price, a carbon cost in the future. There is no doubt that the world is going to value carbon, and that means higher carbon costs. So how the hell is coal going to survive in a world moving to low carbon? It’s not going to.”Coal Plant

McNeil points to research by Chris Reidy at the University of Technology Sydney which estimated a public subsidy of $9-10 billion on 2005-06 figures for the transport and electricity industries alone.

“When people say let’s do nothing, let’s just play that scenario out,” McNeil continues, “if we do nothing in terms of emissions, it’s essentially saying let’s rely on these old relics for our future prosperity in terms of economic growth. But Japan and the EU, who buy most of our coal, are de-carbonising their economies. Why would they be buying coal? They’ll be getting gas, they’ll be getting renewables, they’ll be getting more nuclear, they’ll be doing other things. So someone who says this will be devastating to our economy — it doesn’t make sense.”

But what about the argument, often voiced by the Opposition, that Australia should wait until the rest of the world puts a price on carbon before it acts?

“It’s funny. When someone says there is no current price for carbon they’re just living in la-la land. There’s a very strong shadow price for carbon right now, irrespective of the Government. Last year, 45 coal-fired power stations went off the books in terms of planning. They didn’t go off the books because of coal technology — we’ve had coal for a long time. They [were cancelled] because of the financiers, the Wall St bankers. They said ‘Actually, in a carbon constrained world, where you’ve got a 50-year asset, the carbon price could go from $20 a ton to $200 a ton within 10 or 20 years, so we’re talking about huge carbon liabilities here.'”

“These guys in the coal industry are just delusional, completely delusional.”

To read more, click here.


Written by Gabriel Sassoon

June 16, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Economic benefits of emissions trading scheme

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This article appeared in the Sun Herald today: “Emissions scheme’s $6bn boost to the economy“.

An internal report by National Australia Bank seen by The Sun-Herald suggests the emissions trading debate in Australia has been dominated by claims about the short-term costs, and scant attention has been paid to new investment opportunities.

“The average year-on-year investment created by the [Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme] could be up to 60 per cent greater than that committed for infrastructure in this year’s budget,” the report says.

It warns there has been “little consideration of the investment stimulus” that would be created as the economy becomes less greenhouse-intensive.

“This is unfortunate, as discussion of any costs should be balanced with an examination of the opportunities.”

Duh. The only reason the scheme has been delayed in Australia is because the only industries set to lose from its implementation – heavy polluting ones – have lobbied to have it delayed. And they’ve convinced the public with their false dilemma of environment vs jobs. Here’s how the article ends; don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything for you. Trust me:

Treasury modelling produced for the Government concluded the emissions trading scheme would only have a small net impact on employment.

But the Minerals Council says the mining sector will lose 23,510 jobs over the next decade if a 5 per cent target is adopted.

And, as I’ve written before, punch-card computer operators lost their jobs when technology improved. My question is: um, so?

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

May 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Rudd’s three-card trick

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This week’s Australian federal budget was nearly as short-sighted as ever. What we saw on Tuesday was mostly greenwash. Bob Brown was right: this was not a green budget.

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan

The government pandered to narrow dirty business interests and dressed its actions up with a poorly-disguised sop to the environmental movement.

It is true that we’ve committed serious money to a national broadband infrastructure. But that should have been done years ago. The info tech boom is now a fact of life. And now we’re left lagging in the next crucial tech boom: clean tech.

A welcome initiative is the government’s $1.5 billion over 4 years that will go into building serious centralised solar generation infrastructure.

But this is a mere sideshow – it’s the sop to the greens. It is a smokescreen for the government’s real agenda: protecting carbon-intensive industries.

Out of total budget expenditures of roughly $340 billion, $4.5 billion is going into “clean energy”. That’s just over 1% of the budget. The lion’s share of this money is going into that oxymoron, “clean coal”.

“Clean coal”, or carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a largely unproven technology. Certainly more unproven than established renewable alternatives like wind and solar. It’s 10 years away from industrial-scale deployment. And it’s not “clean”.

But since coal-fired power and coal exports are entrenched Australian industries, it is easy for the government to fund relatively unproven CCS technology and get away with greenwashing it by calling it “clean” technology.

This, after last week’s delay in the emissions trading scheme, casts serious doubt on the government’s commitment to the environment and to green business.

What happened? The government should be investing many billions into true, proven clean technology. Where is the serious funding for wind, solar, smart grids, electric vehicles, and other clean technology infrastructure and R&D?

Our government doesn’t get it. While our most promising future jobs engine – clean energy and clean tech – is left to fend for itself, the government’s priorities are clearly reflected in, for instance, its increases in defence expenditures, its clear commitment to subsidising the fossil fuel industries (partly by greenwashed stealth), and its refusal to include petrol-induced emissions in the ETS.

Serious money needs to be pumped into this sector. Instead, the government has doled out $20 billion in frivolous cash giveaways (a vote-buying ploy spun as “fiscal stimulus”) and delivered an unnecessarily reckless and short-sighted budget.

Will we ever learn?

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

May 15, 2009 at 7:50 am

ACF urges politicians to support CPRS

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When the Australian Conservation Foundation endorses the weak ETS that is being debated at the moment, you know the situation is dire.

The ACF and other green advocacy organisations recognise that the adoption of the government’s proposed CPRS is at least a step in the right direction. They figure that they and other groups can then lobby the government to increase the emissions reduction targets.

I agree with the ACF – the proposed ETS is weak but it must be passed so it can be operational by the beginning of next calendar year. It is, at the very least, a start. Not an especially good start, but a start nonetheless.

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

April 22, 2009 at 4:34 pm

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Better Place and the future of EV in Australia

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Much has been written already about Better Place and Israeli founder Shai Agassi’s plan to bring a mobile phone-style business model to the sale of electric vehicles (EV).  The Israelis, who are set to have their Better Place network installed by next year, have been effusive in their response to the company’s plan. The response elsewhere has been upbeat – in the US, here in Australia, and elsewhere. Inevitably, some have been less than sanguine about Better Place’s vision. Either way, Better Place is advanced in their rollout in Israel, with Denmark not far behind, and aims to have its Australian network ready 6 months after Denmark’s.

The outline of the model is fairly straightforward: since EV batteries are expensive, the company will lease the battery to the consumer for a monthly fee over a multi-year contract, much like mobile phone contracts work. So consumers need only purchase the vehicle itself for roughly the same price as its petrol-powered equivalent, and then enjoy the benefits of paying per kilometre driven. At least in Australia, all the power at the charge points will come from renewables, most likely wind power, which still has the distinct advantage of costing far less than petrol on a per-kilometre basis.

Electric carBetter Place installs its own charge points at the consumer’s place of residence and possibly at their place of work, and for longer journeys it will operate a network of battery exchange stations. Full charges by the consumer take too long to be viable on a long journey (say, from Sydney to Melbourne) and present other technical challenges, whereas Better Place claims that a simple battery exchange (for a pre-charged battery) will take all of three minutes.

I’ve thought for some time that plug-in hybrids (preferably LPG/electrics simply because gas is somewhat cleaner and cheaper than petrol) are the natural solution to the personal transportation problem. This is because most city drivers could survive on a fully juiced-up battery, leaving the LPG tank for longer journeys which are relatively infrequent for most people. But you are left with what remains an expensive car which is charged by traditional power outlets, which for most people means simply switching the carbon burden from petrol to coal.

This is why I like a lot about Better Place’s business model. As CNET points  out, it solves the issue of EV battery expense and the range problem (particularly with these early-generation batteries that are only capable of a 160 km range). It solves the chicken and egg problem of adoption by co-opting the “network” model of the mobile phone. It elegantly answers the critics who argue that EV isn’t necessarily clean because it relies on traditional black power – because Better Place guarantees that its power will be 100% sourced from renewables. Hence their partnership in Australia with AGL. This is a huge selling point at a time when consumers remain concerned about their environmental impact even in the midst of the GFC. And the net result of all of it, should the project be even moderately successful in Australia, will be cleaner air and a significant reduction in dependence on foreign oil which is a clear geopolitical advantage. And, if all goes to plan, consumers will be paying massively less for their personal “fuel” costs – even if the cost of petrol continues to fall, EV costs per kilometre run rings around the cost of oil.Charging an EV

The reason why Shai Agassi and his company has captured the public’s imagination is that it presents a comprehensive vision of how a country’s fleet can be electrified. Perhaps for the first time, we have a simple, reasonably elegant model of a clean, renewable, sustainable electric future. Inevitably, there are going to be challenges – for instance, the installation of charging points at every consumer’s home is understandably necessary to Better Place’s success (in large measure, to ensure that the network is providing only renewably-sourced power), but it detracts from the elegance of the solution.

Nevertheless, I am cautiously optimistic about Better Place. It could easily become an important part of the personal transportation sector’s mix in the next few years, and I say this largely because of a very simple test I have: I’d buy it. And I think a lot of other people will – because it has tremendous cost and branding advantages over hybrid vehicles and even questionably-fueled plug-in hybrids.

If I can have an electric car that will reliably get me around Sydney and up and down the NSW coast for a fraction of the fuel costs of a traditional ICE vehicle, and I know it’s powered by 100% renewable energy, surely it’s going to be as much of a no-brainer for many other consumers as it would be for me.

It will be fascinating to see what comes of this company. I suspect it’s going places. Better places. (I couldn’t resist.) Regardless, I suspect that we will be the last generation to suffer from the filthy air that has blackened our lungs, and the noise pollution of that dinosaur technology, the internal combustion engine.

Opportunities in the midst of the “crisis”

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CrisisRegarding the global financial crisis (GFC): the Chinese word for “crisis” consists of two characters, which make up the compound word “problem-opportunity”.

While it is true that credit markets have seized up, and that there are undoubtedly rough economic times ahead, it must also be true that the GFC presents a tremendous “problem-opportunity” for those in the cleantech space.

This would in some sense be true even if governments didn’t provide regulatory and other stimuli for the industry. Good technologies and good business will bring the market to them because they will be appealing to the consumer (think Prius), and/or cheaper than legacy technologies and methods (think LPG).

The bonus for the cleantech industry is that governments around the world are banking (so to speak) on cleantech as the new economic driver. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Obama Administration has put its money where its mouth is. Barack is fair dinkum about cleantech. The Australian government is lagging behind, but in the event that the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reducation Scheme (CPRS) is passed, and some of the other regulatory elements make it through (such as the new renewable energy production target of 20% by 2020), the cleantech sector will probably boom.

We’re still waiting for the first big cleantech success story in Australia, but it will come. In the meantime, I will mention some of the overseas success stories and local hopes in the next couple of posts. Forget the Global Financial Crisis; think of it as a Global Financial Opportunity.

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

April 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm