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Monday, 24 September 2007

Target, my arse!

I hope that subject line got your attention. Because that's exactly the strategy employed by our Prime Minister with his weekend announcement of a "National Clean Energy Target". Hopefully I've got something more useful to say than he does.

The more astute reader may have already picked up on my subtle hints and started to suspect that I'm not particularly impressed with Mr Howard's efforts in the area of clean energy. But for the sake of not being an arse myself I'll make the majority of this post as objective and even-handed as I can, starting... now.

There are three major aspects to the announcement: the what, the how and the when.

What: 30,000 gigawatt hours of energy per year. It sure sounds like a lot (it's meant to) but it's a funny way of putting things. Since one year has around 8,760 hours in it we can convert it to a measure representing the average instantaneous rate of power generation. Dividing 30,000 by 8,760 gives a smidge over 3.4. That's 3.4 gigawatts. To put that into perspective, Tarong power station in South-East Queensland has a generating capacity of 1.4 gigawatts, so we're talking about just under two and a half Tarongs worth of energy. I've loaned my copy of Mark Diesendorf's book to a friend so I can't look up what fraction of Australia's total present energy generation that is but my initial estimate would be "not much". To be fair, increasing our total renewable energy capacity to this level would be a significant step forward, but see the next paragraph.

How: This is not a "renewable" energy target or even a "sustainable" energy target. This is an allegedly "clean" energy target which refers to "technologies that emit less than 200 kilograms of greenhouse gases per megawatt of electricity generated", explicitly including coal-fired systems with carbon capture and presumably including uranium-based nuclear plants. There's a serious omission in that definition, which is the amount of time over which those emissions will be measured. Multiplying 200kg/MW by 3.4GW gives 680 tonnes. But is that 680 tonnes per year? That would be quite impressive actually, but it could well mean 680 tonnes per HOUR. Regardless, it appears to be a business-as-usual approach from a government which has pledged its support for the coal and nuclear industries, declared its faith in the gospel of carbon capture and storage and demonstrated its disinterest truly clean, renewable, sustainable energy sources.

It must also be pointed out that this scheme is intended to replace all the existing state-based schemes and coalesce them into a national one. There could be some real advantages from an administrative and economic perspective in doing this. But whereas the existing schemes are largely being implemented using true renewables this new arrangement seeks to bring coal and possibly uranium-based nuclear energy under the same umbrella.

When: Mr Howard's announcement sets the year 2020 as the goal for implementing this scheme. That much at least is clear and unambiguous. But if 3.4GW is only a small fraction of today's consumption, it'll likely be a much smaller fraction in twelve years time unless dramatic action on energy-efficiency is taken between now and then.

In the end this policy has the appearance of a misleading pre-election publicity grab designed to give the marginally-concerned majority the impression that the Liberals are being proactive about addressing climate change and sustainability, when all they actually intend to do is sweep the carbon under the rug and rush to build uranium-based nuclear plants as soon as they possibly can.

1 comment:

Shea Watt / Caboolture Greens said...

Hi Terry,
I actually hadn't bothered to pay any attention to Howard's latest round of greenwashing announcements. So well done for confirming that I really didn't need to.

Unfortunately I think you'll find that Labor won't set any concrete targets before the election either, so voting for them will be another game of russian roulette.

I'm looking forward to getting my copy of Diesendorf's book. Glad you've found it useful.