Scientists studiously avoid renewables policy while “digging deeper into the Technology Investment Roadmap.”

Last week leading Australian scientists and technology experts studiously avoided talking about the government’s ongoing hostility to renewables while studiously “Digging deeper into the Technology Investment Roadmap”

The event, organised by the Energy Change Institute of Australian National University was useful and informative as far as it went, with Alan Finkel repeating the lines we have come to expect (technologies with large abatement potential, “Australian comparative advantage,” “zero emissions metals,” “carbon capture and storage”)

Outrageously, Finkel tried to reframe the argument about investor uncertainty (caused by endless reviews and bewildering and painful policy whiplash since the abolition of the carbon price in 2014).  Using a picture of the Bank of England as a visual aid, Finkel advised investors that if they wanted certainty, they invest in a bank.  What they were being given was “clarity”.  To their credit, other panellists gently but firmly dismissed this distinction without a difference in their presentations.

Despite claiming that the Roadmap was focussed on atmospheric emissions as the outcome” Finkel was silent on renewables not being in its portfolio of five elements.

As you would expect Dr Patrick Hartley (Leader, CSIRO Hydrogen Industry Mission) argued that domestic markets for hydrogen also an important stepping stone to transition, not merely as a precursor to the export of hydrogen, with it also having role in grid balancing.

Dr Liz Ratnam (Future Engineering Research Leader Fellow, ANU) spoke on the importance of co-locating generation and storage as much as possible and demand-side technologies (Smart meters, smart appliances) and control and automation technology for firming storage as crucial for the grid’s future.

Assoc. Prof. Llewelyn Hughes (ANU Crawford School of Public Policy) highlighted Australia’s role in global energy markets as core to the Roadmap’s vision, giving the example of a recent joint German and Australia policy study

Finally, and perhaps of most interest to readers of Reneweconomy, Anna Skarbek, CEO, ClimateWorks Australia and an original board member of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, spoke on the need for demand-side focus in investment, alongside procurement commitments and policy support, with approving words for reverse auctions

Alone of all the panellists she raised the crucial point that Australia is not yet tracking towards net zero by mid century, and  that this will need deployment of technologies in roadmap but also those seen as “mature” and “emerging” (this was code for the unmentionable wind and solar).  She pointed to a need for not just commitment on demand side issues but also on scale of deployment. 

She noted that Australia is lagging on percentage of clean tech as part of its covid stimulus (European countries are generally tracking at 20 to 40 percent) and there being an ambition gap. She concluded with the observation that Australia has the potential to play a leadership role.

What neither she nor any of the other panellists could or would say is that Australia is at high risk of again/still squandering this opportunity, much as it did under a previous Liberal administration, that of John Howard (1996-2007).  The talk of Roadmaps and partnerships, which mysteriously prioritise fossil fuels (then coal, now gas), talk up fantasy technologies like CCS while doing everything possible to starve renewables will be causing chronic déjà vu in anyone old enough to remember.  But you’ve got to “dance with the one that brung you”, and those old enough to remember Howard’s government will also remember the punishments dished out anyone who dared to contradict the dominant narratives.  So, we are stuck in a situation where intelligent people speak intelligently within a narrow and clearly wrong-headed policy framework, because the alternative is what is euphemistically called a “career-limiting move.” This would be fine, except the current roadmap is a civilisation-limiting move.

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