Our ability to manufacture minerals could transform the gem market, medical industries and even help suck carbon from the air



Pictured is a slag pile at Broken Hill in New South Wales. Slag is a man-made waste product created during smelting.
Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Author provided

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, The University of Queensland

Last month, scientists uncovered a mineral called Edscottite. Minerals are solid, naturally occurring substances that are not living, such as quartz or haematite. This new mineral was discovered after an examination of the Wedderburn Meteorite, a metallic-looking rock found in Central Victoria back in 1951.

Edscottite is made of iron and carbon, and was likely formed within the core of another planet. It’s a “true” mineral, meaning one which is naturally occurring and formed by geological processes either on Earth or in outer-space.

But while the Wedderburn Meteorite held the first-known discovery of Edscottite, other new mineral discoveries have been made on Earth, of substances formed as a result of human activities such as mining and mineral processing. These are called anthropogenic minerals.

While true minerals comprise the majority of the approximately 5,200 known minerals, there are about 208 human-made minerals which have been approved as minerals by the International Mineralogical Association.

Some are made on purpose and others are by-products. Either way, the ability to manufacture minerals has vast implications for the future of our rapidly growing population.

Modern-day alchemy

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face. While governments debate the future of coal-burning power stations, carbon dioxide continues to be released into the atmosphere. We need innovative strategies to capture it.

Actively manufacturing minerals such as nesquehonite is one possible approach. It has applications in building and construction, and making it requires removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.




Read more:
Climate explained: why carbon dioxide has such outsized influence on Earth’s climate


Nesquehonite occurs naturally when magnesian rocks slowly break down. It has been identified at the Paddy’s River mine in the Australian Capital Territory and locations in New South Wales.

But scientists discovered it can also be made by passing carbon dioxide into an alkaline solution and having it react with magnesium chloride or sodium carbonate/bicarbonate.

This is a growing area of research.

Other synthetic minerals such as hydrotalcite are produced when asbestos tailings passively absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, as discovered by scientists at the Woodsreef asbestos mine in New South Wales.

You could say this is a kind of “modern-day alchemy” which, if taken advantage of, could be an effective way to suck carbon dioxide from the air at a large scale.

Meeting society’s metal demands

Mining and mineral processing is designed to recover metals from ore, which is a natural occurrence of rock or sediment containing sufficient minerals with economically important elements. But through mining and mineral processing, new minerals can also be created.

Smelting is used to produce a range of commodities such as lead, zinc and copper, by heating ore to high temperatures to produce pure metals.

The process also produces a glass-like waste product called slag, which is deposited as molten liquid, resembling lava.

This is a backscattered electron microscope image of historical slag collected from a Rio Tinto mine in Spain.
Image collected by Anita Parbhakar-Fox at the University of Tasmania (UTAS)

Once cooled, the textural and mineralogical similarities between lava and slag are crystal-clear.

Micro-scale inspection shows human-made minerals in slag have a unique ability to accommodate metals into their crystal lattice that would not be possible in nature.

This means metal recovery from mine waste (a potential secondary resource) could be an effective way to supplement society’s growing metal demands. The challenge lies in developing processes which are cost effective.




Read more:
Wealth in waste? Using industrial leftovers to offset climate emissions


Ethically-sourced jewellery

Our increasing knowledge on how to manufacture minerals may also have a major impact on the growing synthetic gem manufacturing industry.

In 2010, the world was awestruck by the engagement ring given to Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, valued at about £300,000 (AUD$558,429).

The ring has a 12-carat blue sapphire, surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds, with a setting made from 18-carat white gold.

Replicas of it have been acquired by people across the globe, but for only a fraction of the price. How?

In 1837, Marc Antoine Gardin demonstrated that sapphires (mineralogically known as corundum or aluminium oxide) can be replicated by reacting metals with other substances such as chromium or boric acid. This produces a range of seemingly identical coloured stones.

On close examination, some properties may vary such as the presence of flaws and air bubbles and the stone’s hardness. But only a gemologist or gem enthusiast would likely notice this.

Diamonds can also be synthetically made, through either a high pressure, high temperature, or chemical vapour deposition process.

Synthetic diamonds have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and physical properties as natural diamonds.
Instytut Fizyki Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego

Creating synthetic gems is increasingly important as natural stones are becoming more difficult and expensive to source. In some countries, the rights of miners are also violated and this poses ethical concerns.

Medical and industrial applications

Synthetic gems have industrial applications too. They can be used in window manufacturing, semi-conducting circuits and cutting tools.

One example of an entirely manufactured mineral is something called yttrium aluminum garnet (or YAG) which can be used as a laser.

In medicine, these lasers are used to correct glaucoma. In dental surgery, they allow soft gum and tissues to be cut away.

The move to develop new minerals will also support technologies enabling deep space exploration through the creation of ‘quantum materials’.

Quantum materials have unique properties and will help us create a new generation of electronic products, which could have a significant impact on space travel technologies. Maybe this will allow us to one day visit the birthplace of Edscottite?




Read more:
How quantum materials may soon make Star Trek technology reality


In decades to come, the number of human-made minerals is set to increase. And as it does, so too does the opportunity to find new uses for them.

By expanding our ability to manufacture minerals, we could reduce pressure on existing resources and find new ways to tackle global challenges.The Conversation

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Senior Research Fellow in Geometallurgy/Applied Geochemistry, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, Principal Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Nuclear power should be allowed in Australia – but only with a carbon price



The Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney. It does not produce nuclear energy but is used to produce medical radioisotopes and for other purposes.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

Looking at the state of policy on energy and climate change in Australia, it’s tempting to give in to despair. At the national level, following the abandonment of the National Energy Guarantee last year, we have no coherent energy policy and no serious policy to address climate change.

In this context, the announcement of two separate inquiries into the feasibility of nuclear power (by the New South Wales and federal parliaments) could reasonably give rise to cynicism. The only possible case for considering nuclear power, in my view, is that it might provide a way to decarbonise our electricity supply industry.

Yet many of the keenest boosters of nuclear power have consistently opposed any serious measure to address climate change, and quite a few have rejected mainstream science altogether.

Activists dressed as nuclear waste barrels protesting at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in 2001. Nuclear technology in Australia has long raised concern among environmentalists.
Laura Frriezer/AAP



Read more:
Australia should explore nuclear waste before we try domestic nuclear power


Yet in a situation which all responsible people view as a climate emergency, we can’t afford the luxury of despair. For this reason, rather than dismissing these inquiries as political stunts, I made a submission to the federal inquiry setting out the conditions required to allow for any possibility of nuclear power in Australia.

The submission was picked up by the national media, which largely focused on my proposal to lift the state ban on nuclear power and implement a carbon price.

The reception from commentators on the right, who want the ban lifted, and from renewables advocates, who want a price on carbon, suggests a middle ground on nuclear power may be achievable.

The three big problems with nuclear power

Three fundamental problems arise immediately when considering the prospect of nuclear power in Australia. First, the technology is expensive: more expensive than new fossil-fuelled power stations, and far too expensive to compete with existing fossil fuel generators under current market conditions.

Second, given the time lags involved, any substantial contribution from nuclear power in Australia won’t be available until well beyond 2030.

Third, given the strong public opposition to nuclear power, particularly from the environmental movement, any attempt to promote nuclear power at the expense of renewables would never get broad support. In these circumstances, any investor in nuclear power would face the prospect of losing their money the moment the balance of political power shifted.

A technician uses a hot cell which shields radioactive material at the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

On the first point, we have some evidence from the contract agreed by the UK government in for the construction of the Hinkley C nuclear power plant. This was the first new nuclear construction project to be approved in an OECD country for a number of years.

The agreement to construct Hinkley was based on a guaranteed “strike price” of £92.50/ megawatt hours (MWh), in 2012 prices, to be adjusted in line with the consumer price index during the construction period and over the subsequent 35-year tariff period. At current exchange rates, this price corresponds to approximately A$165.




Read more:
Nuclear weapons? Australia has no way to build them, even if we wanted to


Prices in Australia’s National Electricity Market have generally averaged around A$90/MWh. This implies that, if new nuclear power is to compete with existing fossil fuel generators, a carbon price must impose a cost of A$75/MWh on fossil fuel generation.

Assuming emission rates of 1.3 tonnes/MWh for brown coal, 1 tonne/MWh for black and 0.5 tonnes for gas, the implied carbon price ranges from A$50/tonne (to displace brown coal) to $150/tonne (to displace gas). On the basis that nuclear power is most plausible as a competitor for baseload generation from brown coal, I considered a price of A$50/tonne.

A blueprint for reform

The central recommendations of my submission were as follows:

Nuclear power, while costly, could dramatically reduce Australia’s electricity sector emissions.
AAP

Recommendation 1: A carbon price of A$25/tonne should be introduced immediately, and increased at a real rate of 5% a year, reaching A$50/tonne by 2035.

Recommendation 2: The government should immediately adopt the recommendations of its own Climate Change Authority for a 40% to 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, relative to 2000 levels, and match other leading OECD countries in committing to complete decarbonisation of the economy by 2050.

Recommendation 3: The parliament should pass a motion:

  • affirming its confidence in mainstream climate science and its acceptance of the key conclusions of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
  • legislating a commitment to emissions reductions;
  • removing the existing ban on nuclear power.

Let’s all meet in the middle

Rather to my surprise, this proposal received a favourable reception from a number of centre-right commentators.

Reaction from renewables proponents, on social media at least, was cautious. But it did not indicate the reflexive hostility that might be expected, given the polarised nature of the debate.

There are immediate political implications of my proposal at both the state and federal level. It will be more difficult for the Coalition-dominated committees running the two inquiries to bring down a report favourable to nuclear power without addressing the necessary conditions – including a carbon price. If the government’s hostility to carbon pricing is such that a serious proposal for nuclear power cannot be considered, it will at least be clear that this option can be abandoned for good.

Former Nationals leader and now backbencher Barnaby Joyce is a strong advocate for nuclear power.
Lukas Coch/AAP

In the admittedly unlikely event that the Coalition government shows itself open to new thinking, the focus turns to Labor and the Greens.

Given the urgency of addressing climate change – a task that is best addressed through a carbon price – it makes no sense to reject action now on the basis that it opens up the possibility of nuclear power sometime in the 2030s. And, if renewables and storage perform as well as most environmentalists expect, nuclear power will be unable to compete even then.

Political hardheads will doubtless say that this is all impossible, and they may be right. But in a world where Donald Trump can win a US presidential election, and major investment banks support UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “impossible” is a big claim

In the absence of any prospect of progress on either energy or climate, the grand bargain I’ve proposed is at least worth a try.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s still building 4 in every 5 new houses to no more than the minimum energy standard


Trivess Moore, RMIT University; Michael Ambrose, CSIRO, and Stephen Berry, University of South Australia

New housing in Australia must meet minimum energy performance requirements. We wondered how many buildings exceeded the minimum standard. What our analysis found is that four in five new houses are being built to the minimum standard and a negligible proportion to an optimal performance standard.

Before these standards were introduced the average performance of housing was found to be around 1.5 stars. The current minimum across most of Australia is six stars under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS).

This six-star minimum falls short of what is optimal in terms of environmental, economic and social outcomes. It’s also below the minimum set by many other countries.




Read more:
Low-energy homes don’t just save money, they improve lives


There have been calls for these minimum standards to be raised. However, many policymakers and building industry stakeholders believe the market will lift performance beyond minimum standards and so there is no need to raise these.

What did the data show?

We wanted to understand what was happening in the market to see if consumers or regulation were driving the energy performance of new housing. To do this we explored the NatHERS data set of building approvals for new Class 1 housing (detached and row houses) in Australia from May 2016 (when all data sets were integrated by CSIRO and Sustainability Victoria) to December 2018.

Our analysis focuses on new housing in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, all of which apply the minimum six-star NatHERS requirement. The other states have local variations to the standard, while New South Wales uses the BASIX index to determine the environmental impact of housing.

The chart below shows the performance for 187,320 house ratings. Almost 82% just met the minimum standard (6.0-6.4 star). Another 16% performed just above the minimum standard (6.5-6.9 star).

Only 1.5% were designed to perform at the economically optimal 7.5 stars and beyond. By this we mean a balance between the extra upfront building costs and the savings and benefits from lifetime building performance.

NatHERS star ratings across total data set for new housing approvals, May 2016–December 2018.
Author provided

The average rating is 6.2 stars across the states. This has not changed since 2016.

Average NatHERS star rating for each state, 2016-18.
Author provided

The data analysis shows that, while most housing is built to the minimum standard, the cooler temperate regions (Tasmania, ACT) have more houses above 7.0 stars compared with the warm temperate states.

NatHERS data spread by state.
Author provided

The ACT increased average performance each year from 6.5 stars in 2016 to 6.9 stars in 2018. This was not seen in any other state or territory.

The ACT is the only region with mandatory disclosure of the energy rating on sale or lease of property. The market can thus value the relative energy efficiency of buildings. Providing this otherwise invisible information may have empowered consumers to demand slightly better performance.




Read more:
Energy star ratings for homes? Good idea, but it needs some real estate flair


We are paying for accepting a lower standard

The evidence suggests consumers are not acting rationally or making decisions to maximise their financial well-being. Rather, they just accept the minimum performance the building sector delivers.

Higher energy efficiency or even environmental sustainability in housing provides not only significant benefits to the individual but also to society. And these improvements can be delivered for little additional cost.




Read more:
Sustainable housing’s expensive, right? Not when you look at the whole equation


The fact that these improvements aren’t being made suggests there are significant barriers to the market operating efficiently. This is despite increasing awareness among consumers and in the housing industry about the rising cost of energy.

Eight years after the introduction of the six-star NatHERS minimum requirement for new housing in Australia, the results show the market is delivering four out of five houses that just meet this requirement. With only 1.5% designed to 7.5 stars or beyond, regulation rather than the economically optimal energy rating is clearly driving the energy performance of Australian homes.

Increasing the minimum performance standard is the most effective way to improve the energy outcomes.

The next opportunity for increasing the minimum energy requirement will be 2022. Australian housing standards were already about 2.0 NatHERS stars behind comparable developed countries in 2008. If mandatory energy ratings aren’t increased, Australia will fall further behind international best practice.

If we continue to create a legacy of homes with relatively poor energy performance, making the transition to a low-energy and low-carbon economy is likely to get progressively more challenging and expensive. Recent research has calculated that a delay in increasing minimum performance requirements from 2019 to 2022 will result in an estimated A$1.1 billion (to 2050) in avoidable household energy bills. That’s an extra 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.




Read more:
Buildings produce 25% of Australia’s emissions. What will it take to make them ‘green’ – and who’ll pay?


Our research confirms the policy proposition that minimum house energy regulations based on the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme are a powerful instrument for delivering better environmental and energy outcomes. While introducing minimum standards has significantly lifted the bottom end of the market, those standards should be reviewed regularly to ensure optimal economic and environmental outcomes.The Conversation

Trivess Moore, Lecturer, RMIT University; Michael Ambrose, Research Team Leader, CSIRO, and Stephen Berry, Research fellow, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s time for Australia to commit to the kind of future it wants: CSIRO Australian National Outlook 2019


Australia’s future prosperity will require bold action on a number of fronts and a deliberate commitment to careful and considered long-term thinking.
Hendra Pontomudis / unsplash, CC BY

James Deverell, CSIRO

Australia’s future prosperity is at risk unless we take bold action and commit to long-term thinking. This is the key message contained in the Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO 2019), a report published today by CSIRO and its partners.

The research used a scenario approach to model different visions of Australia in 2060.

We contrasted two core scenarios: a base case called Slow Decline, and an Outlook Vision scenario which represents what Australia could achieve. These scenarios took account of 13 different national issues, as well as two global contexts relating to trade and action on climate change.

We found there are profound differences in long-term outcomes between these two scenarios.

In the Slow Decline scenario, Australia fails to adequately address identified challenges.
CSIRO, Author provided
The Outlook Vision scenario shows what could be possible if Australia meets identified challenges.
CSIRO, Author provided

Slow decline versus a new outlook

Australia’s living standards – as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita – could be 36% higher in 2060 in the Outlook Vision, compared with Slow Decline. This translates into a 90% increase in average wages (in real terms, adjusted for inflation) from today.

Australia’s real GDP per capita in 2016, and the modelled outcomes for Slow Decline and Outlook Vision. In Outlook Vision, the darker shade shows outcomes under a cooperative global context and the lighter shade under a fractious global context.
CSIRO, Author provided

Australia could maintain its world-class, highly liveable cities, while increasing its population to 41 million people by 2060. Urban congestion could be reduced, with per capita passenger vehicle travel 45% lower than today in the Outlook Vision.

Australia could achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 while reducing household spend on electricity (relative to incomes) by up to 64%. Importantly, our modelling shows this could be achieved without significant impact on economic growth.

Low-emissions, low-cost energy could even become a source of comparative advantage for Australia, opening up new export opportunities.

And inflation-adjusted returns to rural landholders in Australia could triple to 2060, with the land sector contribution to GDP increasing from around 2% today to over 5%.

At the same time, ecosystems could be restored through more biodiverse plantings and land management.




Read more:
Scientists want to build trust in science and technology. The alternative is too risky to contemplate


Historical trend for vehicle kms travelled (VKT) on urban roads, per capita, and projections resulting from the modelled Slow Decline and Outlook Vision scenarios. The shaded area for Outlook Vision represents the range of outcomes possible depending on how regional satellites cities develop.
CSIRO, Author provided

The report, developed over the last two years, explores what Australia must do to secure a future with prosperous and globally competitive industries, inclusive and enabling communities, and sustainable natural endowments, all underpinned by strong public and civic institutions.

ANO 2019 uses CSIRO’s integrated modelling framework to project economic, environmental and social outcomes to 2060 across multiple scenarios.

The outlook also features input from more than 50 senior leaders drawn from Australia’s leading companies, universities and not-for-profits.

So how do we get there?

Achieving the outcomes in the Outlook Vision won’t be easy.

Australia will need to address the major challenges it faces, including the rise of Asia, technology disruption, climate change, changing demographics, and declining social cohesion. This will require long-term thinking and bold action across five major “shifts”:

  • industry shift
  • urban shift
  • energy shift
  • land shift
  • culture shift.

The report outlines the major actions that will underpin each of these shifts.

For example, the industry shift would see Australian firms adopt new technologies (such as automation and artificial intelligence) to boost productivity, which accounts for a little over half of the difference in living standards between the Outlook Vision and Slow Decline.

Developing human capital (through education and training) and investment in high-growth, export-facing industries (such as healthcare and advanced manufacturing) each account for around 20% of the difference between the two scenarios.

The urban shift would see Australia increase the density of its major cities by between 60-88%, while spreading this density across a wider cross-section of the urban landscape (such as multiple centres).

Combining this density with a greater diversity of housing types and land uses will allow more people to live closer to high-quality jobs, education, and services.

Enhancing transport infrastructure to support multi-centric cities, more active transport, and autonomous vehicles will alleviate congestion and enable the “30-minute city”.




Read more:
State of the Climate 2018: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO


In the energy shift, across every scenario modelled, the electricity sector transitions to nearly 100% renewable generation by 2050, driven by market forces and declining electricity generation and storage costs.

Likewise, electric vehicles are on pace to hit price-parity with petrol ones by the mid-2020s and could account for 80% of passenger vehicles by 2060.

In addition, Australia could triple its energy productivity by 2060, meaning it would use only 6% more energy than today, despite the population growing by over 60% and GDP more than tripling.

Primary energy use in Australia under the modelled scenarios. Primary energy is the measure of energy before it has been converted or transformed, and includes electricity plus combustion of fuels in industry, commercial, residential and transport.
CSIRO, Author provided

The land shift would require boosting agricultural productivity (through a combination of plant genomics and digital agriculture) and changing how we use our land.

By 2060, up to 30 million hectares – or roughly half of Australia’s marginal land within more intensively farmed areas – could be profitably transitioned to carbon plantings, which would increase returns to landholders and offset emissions from other sectors.

As much as 700 millions of tonnes of CO₂ equivalent could be offset in 2060, which would allow Australia to become a net exporter of carbon credits.

A culture shift

The last, and perhaps most important shift, is the cultural shift.

Trust in government and industry has eroded in recent years, and Australia hasn’t escaped this trend. If these institutions, which have served Australia so well in its past, cannot regain the public’s trust, it will be difficult to achieve the long-term actions that underpin the other four shifts.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet here.The Conversation

James Deverell, Director, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With climate change likely to sharpen conflict, NZ balances pacifist traditions with defence spending


New Zealand’s military aircraft are used for disaster relief, such as following a series of earthquakes in Sulawesi in 2018.
EPA/Holti Simanjuntak, CC BY-ND

David Belgrave, Massey University

In most countries, the question of whether to produce guns or butter is a metaphor for whether a country should put its efforts into defence or well-being. In New Zealand, this debate is much more literal and has been won easily by butter.

Dairy exports made up around 5.6% of New Zealand’s GDP in 2018 while defence spending only accounted for around 1.1%, with the tiny local defence industry adding little to that total.

Relative geostrategic isolation means New Zealand’s security has been more about ensuring global trade routes stay open for exports, like butter. But climate change is now challenging that notion as environmental change is expected to generate instability in the South Pacific.

While the government doesn’t expect core day-to-day defence spending to increase over the next few years, as much as NZ$20 billion will need to be spent on new equipment.

Replacing ageing equipment

Big ticket items such as warships and military aircraft last for decades and purchases are often years in the planning. Platforms purchased for the New Zealand military, including some acquired during the Vietnam War, are now reaching the end of their life.

New Zealand is facing significant bills as major aircraft, ships and army vehicles will need to be purchased in the next few years. The timing is particularly awkward for the government as it is shifting its spending towards well-being.




Read more:
New Zealand’s ‘well-being budget’: how it hopes to improve people’s lives


To manage this problem the government has released its Defence Capability Plan 2019, which outlines its NZ$20 billion shopping list to resource the military into the 2030s.

The first purchase to come consists of new C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport planes. They will replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s existing C-130s which are now more than 50 years old. At the time of writing, all five of these planes have been grounded due to maintenance problems. A major justification for the upgrades is greater need for a variety of relief, monitoring and peacekeeping missions caused by the effects of climate change.

A recent New Zealand Defence Force report warned that extreme weather patterns will threaten water, food and energy security in the region and shortages could spark violence. New Zealand’s military provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the Pacific and the climate crisis is shifting the rationale for defence spending and the politics of defence in general.

Criticism from the opposition National Party has been less about the plan and more about whether it fits with the government’s overall well-being approach. But the real flak has come from the coalition government’s Green Party support partner.

This shows the complexity of defence politics in New Zealand, as different political parties represent distinct strands of public opinion on the role of the military.

Balancing pacifist and martial traditions

The last 50 years have seen significant disagreement over how the country should engage with the rest of the world and what it should do with its military in particular. Decisions over big purchases and overseas deployments can open up major divisions over New Zealand’s strategic identity.

New Zealand’s strong martial and pacifist traditions are both represented in the current government and major defence decisions have to be made with care.
Jacinda Ardern’s coalition is managing this complex balancing act. The coalition is made up of the centre-left Labour Party and the moderately populist New Zealand First Party, with the Green Party providing confidence and supply.

NZ First is the strongest supporter of the country’s martial traditions. It has always had a hawkish attitude towards China, which has become more relevant in recent years.




Read more:
New Zealand’s Pacific reset: strategic anxieties about rising China


While Labour is generally seen as more dovish than the National Party, the differences have been largely over tone rather than substance. Attitudes towards anti-nuclear policies, the scrapping of the RNZAF fighter wing, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been major points of difference in the past.

Labour has generally differentiated itself by being slightly more willing to criticise allies and placing more faith in collective security, the United Nations and disarmament.

To limit criticism that it is spending on “tanks not teachers”, Ardern’s coalition has skilfully outsourced the job of replacing ageing defence equipment to NZ First’s minister of defence Ron Mark. It was probably no coincidence that last year’s announcement that NZ$2.3 billion would be spent on new maritime patrol aircraft was made by NZ First leader Winston Peters while Ardern was on maternity leave.

Ardern has let NZ First claim the political credit and take the political risk with expensive defence replacements, lest they take the shine off Labour’s focus on social policies. That balancing was on show again last week when Ardern announced that New Zealand was ending its military training deployment to Iraq.

Pacifism in the age of climate change

By sitting outside cabinet, the Greens are able to represent the pacifist end of the political spectrum. The party has its roots in the Values Party of the 1970s, which helped make anti-nuclear attitudes mainstream in New Zealand and, by 1984, Labour Party policy.

The party’s defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman described the transport plane purchase as “war making capability” when New Zealand is good at humanitarian aid delivery, monitoring and supporting Antarctic research. She reconfirmed the Green Party’s commitment to peacekeeping through the UN.

This attitude is problematic as it forgets that the tools for war fighting are the same as those for peacekeeping and disaster relief. As the focus of Green movements worldwide has shifted to climate change, the commitment to disarmament is becoming more at odds with the realities of climate change. Rising sea levels, crop failures and mass migration will be massively destabilising to the international system.

It is not tenable to criticise the purchase of aircraft that will be largely used to send relief missions to the Pacific, scientists to Antarctica and peacekeepers to UN missions, simply because they could be used to send soldiers into combat. The challenge for the Greens will be to find a coherent message on the military that tackles the climate crisis and represents the views of its pacifist base.

The challenge for New Zealand’s allies will be to understand and respect how these contradictory threads of New Zealand’s strategic culture direct and constrain its defence spending.The Conversation

David Belgrave, Lecturer in Politics and Citizenship, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bob Hawke, the environmental PM, bequeathed a huge ‘what if’ on climate change


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Since the news broke of his passing, Bob Hawke has been feted as the “environmental prime minister”. From saving the Franklin River, to protecting Antarctica from mining, conservationists have praised his environmental legacy in the same way economists have lauded his financial reforms.

Hawke was in the Lodge during the crucial period when Australia first became aware of – and tried to grapple with – the issue of climate change. And the trajectory of his leadership, not to mention the manner and timing of his political demise, leaves behind a huge question of what might have been.




Read more:
Vale Bob Hawke, a giant of Australian political and industrial history


Hawke had been in the public eye since becoming head of the ACTU (a far more consequential body back then) in the late 1960s.

Famously, he took the leadership of the Australian Labor Party from Bill Hayden on the morning that then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called the 1983 election. That election had a major environmental issue: the proposed damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania.

Labor promised to halt the project if elected, and it duly did so, winning the court case later that year. But elsewhere Labor remained reluctant to use its federal environmental powers in a wholesale way. Although there was a National Conservation Strategy, Hawke and his senior ministers remained focused on transforming Australia’s economy, bringing down tariff barriers, floating the dollar, and much else.

There were specific battles over the Wet Tropics, uranium mining, and other “green” issues. But something was coming down the track that would ultimately outstrip them all.

Climate conundrum

Barry Jones, Hawke’s science minister from 1983 to 1990, tried in vain to get ministers interested in climate change. Jones mournfully noted in 2008 that he had raised the alarm in 1984, but his cabinet colleagues did not listen:

The response from my political colleagues in Canberra was distinctly underwhelming. I think some of them were persuaded by (industry) lobbyists to say sooner or later a technological fix will come up.

Political journalist Niki Savva’s memoir, So Greek (p.136), gives a clue as to the possible reasons behind this:

Bob Hawke couldn’t stand Barry. A few journos, included myself, were talking to Hawke at the back of his VIP aircraft once about his ministers, when one of my colleagues said to him: “Take Barry Jones…” Hawke interrupted and said testily, “No, you take him.”

It would take a different, more politically cunning minister in Hawke’s next cabinet (1987-90) to bend his colleagues’ ears towards the climate question. The incoming environment minister, Graham Richardson, realised the electoral importance of green issues – whether the ozone hole, deforestation or sewage – in helping Labor differentiate itself from the Liberals. Meanwhile, Hawke had other advisors who were also fighting the green fight from within, and noisy large environment groups without.

After the Commission for the Future (a Barry Jones initiative) had launched the Greenhouse Project in 1987, Hawke began to give speeches about the importance of action against the emerging threat of global warming.

In June 1989, Richardson, having proposed a greenhouse emissions target only to see the idea nixed in cabinet by treasurer Paul Keating, noted:

The environment is galloping up the hit parade, and will be top of the pops pretty soon. It’s come from nowhere as an election issue to be Number Two to interest rates.

Hawke’s 1989 statement on the environment (jokingly called the World’s Greatest Environmental Statement) contained little detail on the idea of emissions reductions. Ironically enough, the Liberals went to the March 1990 election with a more ambitious emissions target than Labor.

After winning the 1990 election with Green preferences, the Hawke government established the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy process. It featured nine working groups in areas including agriculture, tourism, energy use, and so on, with an overarching “greenhouse” group added later.

However, by 1991, the climate issue was slipping down the charts once more, eclipsed by concerns such as the first Gulf War and the “recession we had to have”. What’s more, Hawke’s relationship with Keating had broken down after he reneged on his promise to stand aside after a third term, and the airwaves were now dominated by political intrigue.

Rising resistance

Meanwhile, the business community was growing more organised in its resistance to environmental regulation. After Hawke vetoed a uranium mine in Kakadu National Park in 1991, industry formed the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (see Guy Pearse’s High and Dry for the full story) to make sure climate policy didn’t follow the same path.

Hawke stuck to his guns. In October 1991, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, he pledged to go to the following year’s Earth Summit in Rio and apply maximum pressure for global action.

Hawke’s days as prime minister, however, were numbered. In December 1991, after a lacklustre parliamentary response to John Hewson’s “Fightback!” policy launch, Keating’s forces moved in for the kill. Hawke’s time as leader had begun and ended with leadership coups – a tactic that has become an even more potent threat in recent years as the climate wars have heated up.




Read more:
Carbon coups: from Hawke to Abbott, climate policy is never far away when leaders come a cropper


Keating didn’t go to Rio in 1992, making Australia the only OECD country that didn’t have its top political leader present at the landmark summit.

Australia produced an eye-wateringly weak National Greenhouse Response Strategy that was not worth the paper it was written on, and was within two years challenged by greens seeking a carbon levy.

There was an effort to get more meaningful domestic policy ahead of the first round of UN climate talks in 1995. But this was defeated by a beefed-up constellation of energy companies, academics and think-tankers, with newspapers and unions helping. Since then, Australian climate policy has been, to put it mildly, inadequate.

Could it have been different?

Hawke had a penchant for the grand gesture – from “no Australian child will be living in poverty” to “Australian servicemen not dying overseas” – and this naturally prompts us to ask “what if”?

What if he had been at Rio? What if Australia had invested properly in energy efficiency, solar and other renewables? Of course it’s entirely conceivable that the business community’s response would simply have been even more ferocious, and the environmental movement’s early-1990s malaise all the more pronounced. But it’s not impossible to imagine that Hawke’s forceful determination would have carried the day, as it did on so many others.

There’s been a lot of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since Hawke was prime minister, and plenty of hot air pumped into the climate policy debate. But although Hawke fell agonisingly short of finding out who would prevail in 2019, the next prime minister’s climate task is clearer than his, and far more difficult: preparing Australians for inevitable consequences of past policy failures.The Conversation

Marc Hudson, Researcher, University of Manchester, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Joyce could be facing waves at a judicial inquiry after the election


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s hard to believe Barnaby Joyce really wants to lead the Nationals again. Of course everyone knows he does, desperately, but his unhinged ABC interview with Patricia Karvelas on Monday showed a breathtaking absence of political judgement or personal restraint.

Joyce went on the program to defend his conduct in the 2017 A$79 million water buyback from two Queensland properties owned by Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA).

Regardless of how his approval of this deal will ultimately be judged, his shouting, interruptions and at times absurd language drowned out any chance of his getting his points across.

Joyce loyalists will see it as Barnaby-being-Barnaby. But it was further reason for Nationals to despair about the parlous state of their party, as they watch an ineffective leader and an out-of-control aspirant.

The Joyce interview made it harder for the government to manage this big distraction in a messy second campaign week.

The controversy over the water purchase is based on an old story; the election has enabled it to be resurrected for a powerful fresh spin around the political circuit.

Water expert Quentin Grafton, professor of economics at the Crawford School at the Australian National University, lays out the issues.

Grafton estimates the Commonwealth paid about $40 million too much for this water. He identifies three areas of concern: the government’s failure to get value for money (remembering this was floodwater, which is unreliable); the lack of transparency in the deal, and the nature of the process – a negotiated sale rather than an open tender.

Much has been made of EAA being a subsidiary of Eastern Australian Irrigation (EAI), which is based in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven. This does, however, seem an irrelevance in the context of the value for money issue.

Also, it is one thing to say tax avoidance structures should be cracked down on, quite another to suggest the government should decline to deal with a company with a structure that accords with the law.

There has also been talk about Energy Minister Angus Taylor. As a business consultant Taylor helped set up the two companies and was a director of each.

But according to Taylor’s office he ended all links before entering parliament, never had a direct or indirect financial interest in EAA or any associated company, had no knowledge of the water buyback until after it happened, and received no benefit from this transaction.

So the questions in this affair centre on the conduct of the Agriculture Department and its then minister.

Grafton says: “Either the public servants were incompetent in relation to understanding value for money – or there’s an alternative explanation.”

The department is sensitive, taking the unusual step during Easter (and in the “caretaker” period) of issuing a statement defending its actions. It said it had done “due diligence”. The water purchase had been consistent with Commonwealth Procurement Rules “and paid at a fair market rate, as informed by independent market valuation,” the statement said.




Read more:
Australia’s ‘watergate’: here’s what taxpayers need to know about water buybacks


Joyce is known in general to have been a meddling minister.

In this case, he insists he followed departmental advice in approving the purchase, and had been at arms length from the deal.

“My role was never to actually select a purchaser or to determine a price,” he told a Tuesday news conference. But he approved the authority to negotiate without tender, and imposed conditions, including having the department report back to him before finalising the deal.

The current Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, tried to stem the damage on Tuesday by asking the Auditor-General to inquire into the matter. Littleproud added a political twist, requesting the audit to look back as far as 2008, to encompass Labor’s period.

But this wasn’t going to satisfy Labor in an election campaign.

The opposition had demanded documents by the end of Tuesday; predictably, it didn’t get what it wanted.

Bill Shorten had already flagged the need for a judicial inquiry.

Late Tuesday, environment spokesman Tony Burke accused Scott Morrison of “trying to cover up his government’s incompetence, chaos and potential misconduct”.

“It is now clear that there needs to be an independent inquiry into the Eastern Australia Agriculture scandal, with coercive powers so that Australians can get the truth,” Burke said. (That inquiry, however, wouldn’t be probing Labor deals.)

If Labor wins on May 18, yet again we will see a government launch an investigation into the conduct of its predecessor. If this comes to pass, Joyce will find himself in the witness box, a prospect he seems to relish – at least now.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s ‘watergate’: here’s what taxpayers need to know about water buybacks



File 20190423 15224 l8c00.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The federal government committed to reducing water extraction from the Murray-Darling Basin.
Shutterstock

Lin Crase, University of South Australia

In 2017, the then agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, signed off on an A$80 million purchase of a water entitlement from a company called Eastern Australia Agriculture.

The problem is that Energy Minister Angus Taylor used to be a director of Eastern Australia Agriculture – though he didn’t have a financial interest – and the company is a Liberal party donor. What’s more, the value of the water purchased for A$80 million is under question.

Now, as the election looms, this issue has resurfaced. But why should taxpayers be concerned?




Read more:
Is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan broken?


Water buybacks using an open tender were halted by the current government in 2015, even though this is the most cost-effective way to set aside water for the environment. Instead, the government pronounced that subsidies for irrigators were a better deal.

Until 2015, the government bought back most water using an open tender process, before it was replaced by a subsidy scheme for irrigation and occasional closed tenders.

The problem with the closed tender process is that it tends to lack transparency, which raises questions about how effectively the government is spending public money. And it’s hard to prove closed tenders deliver the most cost effective outcome.

The Murray-Darling Basin is a very productive agricultural zone and its rivers have been used to boost agricultural outputs through irrigation.

State governments spent much of the 20th century allocating this water to agricultural users. By the 1990s it was clear too much water was being extracted. This resulted in both harm to the river environment and potential reduced reliability for those with existing water rights.

Various attempts to rein in extractions were made around this time, but ultimately the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was adopted to deal with the problem.

In agreeing on the plan, the federal government committed to spending A$13 billion to reduce the amount of water being extracted from the Murray-Darling Basin. To accomplish this the government has two basic strategies.

One involves buying up existing rights for water use. The other hinges on using subsidies so farmers use less water when irrigating.

Reducing water extraction from the basin

The second approach of using subsidies is generally more politically appealing. This is because few farmers ever object to receiving a subsidy and the public has an affinity with the idea of “saving” water.




Read more:
Damning royal commission report leaves no doubt that we all lose if the Murray-Darling Basin Plan fails


The problem, however, is that subsidies are a more costly way of returning water to the river system than simply buying back existing water rights. And so-called water savings are hard to measure how much water savings are a result of subsidies or some other factor.

This is why some analysts even claim subsidies are reducing the level of water available for the environment.

Buying back water rights is generally more cost-effective than providing subsidies. But a clear and transparant process still matters because water rights are not the same for everyone and it’s a complex process to determine their overall value.

Allocations and entitlements

First, most water users hold a legal right, known as an entitlement. Water entitlements represent the long-term amount of water that can be taken and used – subject to rain, of course.

Second, water allocations represent the amount of water currently available against a given entitlement – this is the water that is available now.

If a farmer owns an entitlement in the River Murray, chances are the annual allocation will be determined by how much water has flowed into upstream storages like Hume Dam, Dartmouth Dam or Lake Eildon.

Even then the allocation will vary, depending on which state issued the original entitlement. For instance, New South Wales water is generally allocated more aggressively. This means NSW entitlements tend to be less reliable in dry years than Victorian or South Australian entitlements.

If a farmer owns an entitlement where there are no upstream storages, as is the case with much of the Darling River system, then the allocation will vary depending on how much water is flowing in the river.




Read more:
Discontent with Nationals in regional areas could spell trouble for Coalition at federal election


So what?

All of this means the amount of water that can actually be used for the environment when an entitlement passes to the government will depend heavily on the underlying characteristics of the water right.

Partly for this reason, water buybacks were historically conducted using an open tender process.

This meant the government would announce its willingness to buy water entitlements. Farmers would then notify the government about what entitlements they held and the price they were prepared to take.




Read more:
Investors and speculators aren’t disrupting the water markets


Running an open tender allowed the government to assess the value for money of the different entitlements on offer at the time.

Water buybacks through open tender began seriously in about 2007 to 2008. This meant the price owners were prepared to sell for would be registered, and then the government would determine which offer provided the best value. Around 60% of all water now held for the environment by the Commonwealth was secured through open tenders.

As a general rule, a relatively high-reliability water entitlement was bought for about $2,000 per megalitre and this has become the metric for many in the market. But the current government halted this process in 2015.

Now, the government buys water through direct negotiation with water-entitlement holders.

The government justified ending open-tender buybacks on the basis that the water being secured was causing undue harm to rural and regional communities. And, instead, much more expensive subsidies would supposedly generate a better overall return.

This view is not universally shared. The receipts from openly tendered water entitlements were being used by many farmers to adjust their business, while still staying in the region.

Many rural communities continue to thrive, regardless of the strategy chosen to secure water for the environment. Subsidies also tend to favour particular irrigators rather than the community in general.




Read more:
Droughts, extreme weather and empowered consumers mean tough choices for farmers


Having set aside the cheapest option of open-tender buybacks and declaring support for irrigation subsidies, the problem the government now faces is that it must explain why closed tenders persisted (albeit in isolated cases) and were signed off by Ministers as good value for money.

Closed tenders need not deliver a poor outcome for taxpayers. But it does mean the likelihood of establishing the best value for money is reduced, simply because there are fewer reference points.

And if it’s legitimate to overspend public money on irrigation infrastructure subsidies, the credibility of a supposedly cost-effective closed tender is also brought into question.The Conversation

Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull’s home truths on the NEG help Labor in the climate wars


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An Easter weekend in an election campaign might be a bit of a challenge for a pair of leaders who were atheists. But fortunately for Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, declared believers, it wasn’t a problem.

Both attended church services during the so-called campaign cease-fire that the main parties had proclaimed for two of the four days.

Morrison on Sunday was pictured in full voice with raised arm at his Horizon Pentacostal church in The Shire, where the media were invited in. On Friday he’d been at a Maronite Catholic service in Sydney.

Sunday morning saw Shorten at an Anglican service in Brisbane, his family including mother-in-law Quentin Bryce, former governor-general.

Neither leader was hiding his light under a bushel.

Church, chocolate and penalty rates

Sunday was an opportunity to wheel out the kids, chasing Easter eggs (Shorten) or on the Rock Star ride at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show (Morrison). This was campaigning when you’re not (exactly) campaigning.

The minor players weren’t into the pretend game. For them, the relative restraint on the part of the majors presented rare opportunity. Usually Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick would have little chance of being the feature interview on the ABC’s Insiders.

But while Friday and Sunday were lay days for the major parties Saturday was not (and Monday won’t be either).

For Labor, Easter has meshed nicely with one of the key planks of its wages policy – restoration of penalty rate cuts by the Fair Work Commission. Even on Sunday, Shorten pointedly thanked “everyone who’s working this weekend”.

It was the start of Labor’s campaign focus turning from health to wages this week, when it will cast the election as a “referendum on wages”.

Turnbull resurrects the NEG

The weekend standout, however, was the intervention of Malcolm Turnbull, who launched a series of pointed tweets about the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Turnbull was set off by a reference from journalist David Speers to “Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG”.

“In fact the NEG had the support of the entire Cabinet, including and especially the current PM and Treasurer. It was approved by the Party Room on several occasions”, the former prime minister tweeted.



“It had the support of the business community and energy sector in a way that no previous energy policy had. However a right wing minority in the Party Room refused to accept the majority position and threatened to cross the floor and defeat their own government”.

“That is the only reason it has been abandoned by the Government. The consequence is no integration of energy and climate policy, uncertainty continues to discourage investment with the consequence, as I have often warned, of both higher emissions and higher electricity prices.”

He wasn’t finished.



“And before anyone suggests the previous tweet is some kind of revelation – all of the economic ministers, including myself, @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg spent months arguing for the NEG on the basis that it would reduce electricity prices and enable us to lower our emissions.”

And then:

“I see the @australian has already described the tweets above as attacking the Coalition. That’s rubbish. I am simply stating the truth: the NEG was designed & demonstrated to reduce electricity prices. So dumping it means prices will be higher than if it had been retained. QED”

“The @australian claims I ‘dropped the NEG’. False. When it was clear a number of LNP MPs were going to cross the floor the Cabinet resolved to not present the Bill at that time but maintain the policy as @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg& I confirmed on 20 August.”



(Frydenberg, incidentally, has lost out every which way on the NEG. As energy minister he tried his hardest to get it up, only to see it fall over. Now he is subject to a big campaign against him in Kooyong on climate change, including from high-profile candidates and GetUp.)

Turnbull might justify the intervention as just reminding people of the history. But it is damaging for the government and an Easter gift for Labor – which is under pressure over how much its ambitious emissions reduction policy would cost the economy. It also feeds into Labor’s constant referencing of the coup against Turnbull.

Turnbull’s Easter tweets are a reminder

  • the Coalition sacrificed a coherent policy on energy and climate for a hotchpotch with adverse consequences for prices;

  • it dumped that policy simply because of internal bloodymindedness, and

  • the now-PM and treasurer were backers of the NEG, which had wide support from business.

Shorten has strengthened his commitment on the NEG, indicating on Saturday he’d pursue it in government even without bipartisan support.

“We’ll use some of the Turnbull, Morrison, Frydenberg architecture, and we will work with that structure,” he said.

Given the hole it has left in the government’s energy policy, pressing Morrison on the economic cost of walking away from the NEG is as legitimate as asking Shorten about the economic impact of his policy.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the starting line of the 2019 election campaign


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The government’s electricity shortlist rightly features pumped hydro (and wrongly includes coal)


Mark Diesendorf, UNSW

The federal government this week released a shortlist of 12 project proposals for “delivering reliable and affordable power” to be considered for subsidy under its Underwriting New Generation Investments program.

The shortlist features six renewable electricity pumped hydro projects, five gas projects, and one coal upgrade project, supplemented by A$10 million for a two-year feasibility study for electricity generation in Queensland, possibly including a new coal-fired power station.

The study is unnecessary, because the GenCost 2018 study by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator already provides recent cost data for new power generation in Australia. It shows that new wind and solar farms can provide the lowest-cost electricity, even when two to six hours’ worth of storage is added.

Hence there is no economic case for new coal-fired power in Australia. After a century of coal, it should not be subsidised any longer.




Read more:
It’s clear why coal struggles for finance – and the government can’t change that


State of the states

While Queensland and Victoria have state government policies to drive the rapid growth of large-scale solar and wind, New South Wales does not even have a renewable electricity target. Yet the retirement of large, old coal-fired stations is in the pipeline: Liddell, nominally 1,680 megawatts, in 2022 and Vales Point, nominally 1,320MW, possibly in the late 2020s.

Coal baron Trevor St Baker bought Vales Point from the NSW government for the token sum of A$1 million in 2015. He wants to refurbish it and run it until 2049 – and his plan has made it onto the government’s shortlist.

Given that Vales Point is now arguably a A$730 million asset, St Baker has made a huge windfall profit at the expense of NSW taxpayers, and so a government subsidy to upgrade it would be unjust.

With the price of solar and wind electricity still falling, it will soon be cheaper to replace old operating coal stations that have paid off their capital costs with new renewable electricity, including storage.

Unfortunately, the newly elected NSW Liberal-National Coalition government has no policies of substance to fill the gap left by retiring coal stations with large-scale renewable electricity. It will therefore be up to the federal government after the May election to provide reverse auctions with contracts-for-difference, matching the policies of the ACT, Victorian and Queensland governments. Also, increased funding to ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is needed for dispatchable renewables (those that can supply power on demand) and other forms of storage.

Driving the change

The transition to renewable electricity is already well under way, as even the federal energy minister Angus Taylor admits. The low costs of solar and wind power are driving the change. To maintain reliability, dispatchable renewables (as opposed to variable sources such as solar and wind) and other forms of storage are needed in the technology mix.

Batteries excel at responding rapidly to changes in supply and demand, on timescales of tens of milliseconds to a few hours. But they would be very expensive for covering periods of several days, even at half their current price. So there is a temporary role for open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to meet demand peaks of a few hours, and to fill lows of several days in wind and/or solar supply.

Small-scale pumped hydro, in which excess local renewable electricity does the pumping, has huge potential for storage over periods of several days, but takes longer to plan and build, and has higher capital cost per megawatt, compared with OCGTs.

Small-scale pumped hydro should be the top priority for the federal program. In particular, the off-river proposal by SIMEC Zen Energy, which is part of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, will use a depleted iron ore pit and provide cheap, reliable, low-emission electricity for both GFG’s steelworks at Whyalla and other industrial and commercial users.




Read more:
Five gifs that explain how pumped hydro actually works


Hydro Tasmania’s proposed “Battery of the Nation” would involve building a new interconnector across the Bass Strait, together with possibly three new pumped hydro plants. It’s very expensive and is already receiving A$57 million in federal funding. Its inclusion in the shortlist is worrying because it could soak up all the program’s unspecified funding for pumped hydro.

Furthermore, the need to greatly increase Tasmania’s wind capacity to deal with droughts appears to be an optional extra, rather than an essential part of the project.

Little information is available for the other shortlisted pumped hydro projects. UPC Renewables is proposing a huge solar farm, together with pumped hydro, in the New England region of NSW. In South Australia, Sunset Power (trading as Delta Electricity, chaired by Trevor St Baker), in association with the Altura Group, is proposing an off-river pumped hydro project near Port Augusta, and Rise Renewables is proposing the Baroota pumped hydro project. BE Power Solutions, which does not have a website, is proposing pumped hydro on the Cressbrook Reservoir at Crows Nest, Queensland.

Pumping for Snowy 2.0 (which is not part of the program) will be done mostly by coal power for many years, until renewables dominate supply in NSW and Victoria. Therefore, I give low priority to this huge and expensive scheme.




Read more:
Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains


To sum up, new coal power stations and major upgrades to existing ones are both unnecessary. They are more expensive than wind and solar, even when short-term storage is added – not to mention very polluting.

A few open-cycle gas turbines may be acceptable for temporary peak supply during the transition to 100% renewable electricity. But the priority should be building pumped hydro to back up wind and solar farms. This will keep the grid reliable and stable as we do away with the old and welcome the new.The Conversation

Mark Diesendorf, Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.