IEA: “Grounds for Increasing Optimism” on Clean Energy Transition

Last Friday, The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its 2020 report on the clean energy technology “state of play.” The report underlined the continuing progress of renewables, praising “the impressive rise of off-shore wind” and “the spectacular success” of solar in becoming “the cheapest source of power” in many locations.

“Today, I am increasingly optimistic about the world’s clean energy future, despite the grave challenges we face,” said executive direct Dr Fatih Birol. “More and more governments around the world are backing clean energy technologies as part of their economic recovery plans.”

Unfortunately, the Morrison government is not one of them. The Federal Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, a draft of which was reported on by Nine newspapers last week, shows the government is attempting to dig in on fossil fuels for the long-term.

The draft contained plans to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to fund gas and carbon sequestration. According to the department, “There is enormous potential in technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, soil carbon sequestration, biofuels, resources and energy exports to reduce emissions.”

The report was also slammed for a chart claiming that renewables firmed with gas would provide lower emissions than renewables firmed with batteries or pumped hydro. When pressed on its sources by an Australia Institute Freedom of Information request, the department responded, “The size of the bubbles in the discussion paper’s charts do not relate to any specific quantum of abatement.”

Of course, the difficulty the government is facing is that the business case for fossil fuels makes less and less sense every year. Major players in fossil fuels like Origin, AGL and EnergyAustralia sell power to the grid at $70-$80 per MW/hr. By contrast, the ACT government signed a contract last month to buy green power from the not-yet-built Goyder project in South Australia at $35 per MW/hr, less even than the operating costs of current coal power stations. 

The Goyder project, with 1,200MW of wind and 600MW of solar capacity plus battery storage, will generate roughly equivalent power to a coal-fired plant. The Goyder plans take advantage of the tendency for winds in Goyder to blow most strongly at night-time, while solar generation obviously peaks in the middle of the day.

In sum, it’s high time the Federal Liberals ditched the fossil-fuel albatross and got out of the way of their Labor and Liberal state colleagues.