In ‘Environmental policy’ Category

Drawdown editor Paul Hawken

Drawdown: a plan to reverse global warming

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Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project brings together peer-reviewed science on the “top 100 solutions to climate change”, highlighting the benefits and costs of each. ATA member Tom Hunt met with him recently in Melbourne.

IN February, I was privileged to meet Paul Hawken in Melbourne while we were both touring Australia. I was merely on holidays while the US environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author was presenting the Drawdown project to a large and enthusiastic audience at an event organised by Sustainability Victoria at RMIT.


Drawdown, the book, is Paul Hawken’s latest bestseller, but it is far more than a well-illustrated and readable tome. It represents the combined work of 70 scientists and researchers, and tells an inspiring story of the most important things we can do to combat climate change. It calculates just what we can achieve in terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction by applying the technologies and knowledge already at our disposal. The book is supported by the website, which also presents the data in a very accessible way, gives more information on the methodologies and updates the results as research continues.

Deciding what’s important
So what is the most important thing to focus on in the battle to combat climate change? Is it more important to replace coal with wind turbines, to put solar on every rooftop, to switch to electric vehicles or just to stop eating meat?

This is the type of question many people have posed, but few have properly explored. Back in 2001 Paul Hawken started asking the experts: “Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?” But the experts had no overall picture, only the knowledge within their own spheres of expertise.

Greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. In 2013 Paul was so concerned by talk of the unthinkable ‘game over’, he decided to pull together all the experts he could and work out, for us all, just where we stand on global warming with the options we have.

Read the full article in ReNew 143.

Energy Efficiency Scorecard assessment

Scoring your home

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Energy efficiency scorecards promise a way to compare homes and kickstart energy efficiency and liveability improvements, for both renters and homeowners.The ATA’s Katy Daily looks at how the Victorian government’s Australian-first scorecard scheme could help her draughty rental home.

SINCE moving from the USA to Melbourne six years ago, my family of four has been renting a tastefully restored 1926 art deco weatherboard. And, in the typical refrain you hear from almost every immigrant from a colder climate, I’ve never felt as cold as I did that first spring in Australia.


Working at the ATA armed me with plenty of ideas for things I could do as a renter (and that we can take with us when we move) to make our draughty home more energy-efficient: we’ve replaced almost all the lights with LEDs, installed a Methven Kiri showerhead, added a Valvecosy to our hot water system and started insulating the hot water piping, and bought an energy-efficient refrigerator and washing machine.

We’ve done a good job of getting our electricity usage down to a respectable 4 kWh/day on average, but the house leaks like a sieve and my partner and I are both loathe to turn the heat on just to heat up the neighbourhood! As a result, our house is very uncomfortable in the winter and can be oppressive on very hot, still days and nights. We’ve been wanting to approach our landlord about draughtproofing, solar and other improvements to help make the home more comfortable while maintaining the low running costs, but didn’t know how to start the conversation.

Enter the Victorian government’s new Residential Efficiency Scorecard which rolled out in 2017. The scorecard is an Australian-first home energy rating program that gives (yet another) star rating, this time for your home, on a scale from 1 to 10, similar to the energy use star rating on a fridge or washing machine. Not to be confused with the NatHERS Star rating which describes the thermal performance of a home, the scorecard rating represents the running cost of the fixed appliances in a home (heating, cooling, lighting, hot water and pools/spas) and is intended to be used as a guide to make home improvements efficiently and cost-effectively.

Read the full story of Katy’s assessment in ReNew 142.

Sheep roam seven hectares on the UQ Gatton solar farm

100% renewable by 2030

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In late 2016, we reported on ATA analysis that showed a 100% renewable grid is feasible and economic in the long-term. Here, Andrew Reddaway follows up to see how we’re progressing towards that goal.

The last year has seen much action in the electricity grid, both announced and commenced. It’s become clear that the electricity grid’s transition is well underway, as coal-fired power stations are being replaced by renewables. However, poor planning and coordination has caused problems such as curtailment of wind generation in SA.


Transition planning needed
As the grid transitions to a high level of renewables, good long-term planning is required. If the grid’s current planning arrangements continue unchanged, decisions and investments will be uncoordinated. They may make sense for the short-term profits of individual companies, but may not lead to a well-designed overall system. The Chief Scientist considered this, and recommended an “integrated grid plan” by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

In the current system, generators compete against each other, may close without notice and have a business incentive to conceal their future intentions.

There is no guarantee that new power stations will be built—the system expects that investors will foresee a shortfall, identify a profit and construct the needed infrastructure. To assist investors, AEMO annually produces the Electricity Statement Of Opportunities report attempting to identify future shortfalls. This document only looks ahead 10 years, and doesn’t consider scenarios such as 100% renewables. AEMO also produces a transmission report, which looks ahead 20 years but has a relatively narrow focus on transmission lines and related assets.

In hindsight this system has a clear flaw. If investors fail to act in time, generating capacity may be insufficient to meet demand. It takes several years to build a new power station, but an old one can be closed very quickly—Hazelwood’s owners provided only five months notice. Individual asset owners have no responsibility for overall system reliability.

This is why interventions in the market have been required in 2017, including the SA government’s Energy Plan.

The current system also relies heavily on clear, long-term government policy to guide investors. Without such policy, investors face the risk that their newly-built asset might have to contend with unexpected new incentives, rules and regulations.

The best plan so far
In the absence of long-range planning by authorities for a high-renewable grid, the best studies have come from universities. In February 2017, the ANU published a clear vision for our future grid. Its researchers found the most economic combination for a fully renewable grid comprises:

  • wind farms (45,000 MW)
  • solar farms (23,000 MW)
  • rooftop solar (17,000 MW)
  • existing hydroelectric and biomass generators (10,800 MW)
  • pumped hydro energy storage
  • extra transmission lines.

Read the full article in ReNew 142 or you can find the paper on which the article is based at

Heat pumps harvest renewable heat

Beyond solar PV

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There’s more to renewable energy than just electricity. Renewable heat is an important alternative to gas for Australian homes and industry, writes Tim Forcey.

MANY Australians just love renewable energy. The deployment of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels continues to grow. Large wind farms are becoming more common in every state. Even the energy storage potential of the Snowy Mountains is in the news, as is Tesla with their big batteries. With these technologies and resources, we can aim to avoid the worst effects of climate change and quit burning coal and gas to generate electricity.


But there is more to renewable energy than just generating electricity. Australia also has massive opportunities for deploying technologies that harvest or create ‘renewable heat’.

It may be because Australia’s climate is not as cold as elsewhere that the term ‘renewable heat’ is rarely used here. Contrast this to Europe where, because of its key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, entire conferences are devoted to renewable heat. In Japan, research since the 1970s has made that country a global leader in renewable heat harvesting technologies such as heat pumps. For decades in New Zealand and Tasmania, places poorly endowed with fossil fuels, renewable heat has played an important role both in homes and more widely across their island economies.

Beyond the environmental benefits, there is a new economic reason why Australians should be interested in using renewable heat: the rapidly rising price of gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.


The Pears Report: Houses are public assets, too

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Why can’t we support long-term investments in energy-efficient buildings for the benefit of all in the community, the way we’re prepared to invest in infrastructure like roads, asks Alan Pears?

I have had a long-standing involvement in building energy rating, regulation and building energy assessment. There are encouraging signs that the next round of building energy regulation for non-residential buildings will drive significant improvement— if it is enforced.


But progress in the residential sector is painfully slow. New homes should be assets that help deliver a healthy, zero (or beyond zero) emission future. This will require a dramatic increase in thermal performance (both summer and winter) of new homes and strong enforcement of standards. I am very concerned about the long-term costs and impacts of failure to act faster.

Incentives, finance, accountability
The situation seems pretty clear to me. We need long-term low-interest finance combined with incentives and mandatory measures for new buildings and existing ones, especially where the decision-maker doesn’t pay the ongoing energy bills. We need accountability through checking actual performance. High-profile rating and benchmarking of performance (with promotion and education so people use it) must be built into information given to home buyers and potential tenants.

Over 30% of households are rentals. Many more have limited financial resources. Houses last 75 years or so on average: they are a form of public infrastructure that private decision-makers create and operate. We finance power stations, roads and buildings over 25 years or more, so why not the cost of upgrading building performance to be future assets in a zero-carbon world?

The energy efficiency of homes is a major influence on health, comfort, energy costs and how much energy supply infrastructure we need. Renewable energy, like efficient heating and cooling equipment, is important. But efficient buildings need a lot less energy supply infrastructure. They are less vulnerable to supply interruptions and appliance failure. They are nicer to live in.

The widely used CBA/HIA housing affordability index ignores the ongoing costs of running a house. It focuses attention on the ‘sticker’ price—yet very few people pay cash for a house. The rest of us are more interested in the net cashflow: can we afford to pay the loan off while paying the running costs and health care bills? Yet few talk about that as an affordability indicator.

The present National Construction Code largely ignores the costs of peak energy demand, health and amenity costs, as well as carbon emission costs and the adequacy of performance in a changing climate.

A package of high building efficiency, high equipment and appliance efficiency, on-site renewable energy and storage can now be cashflow-positive if financed through a mortgage. Reduced health care costs, improved amenity and reduced energy infrastructure costs add value. And we need to ensure the value of long-term benefits is not discounted away by economic analysts. Of course, including a realistic carbon price would make this look even better.

Tenants and financially stressed households, especially those in existing poor-performing homes, suffer most. When we as a society recognise the broader social benefit of helping people to look after themselves, we act. Owning a home, no matter how inefficient and uncomfortable, has long been seen as a socially beneficial outcome, so governments have encouraged banks to loan money. The financial sector is happy to loan money to businesses that claim they will deliver a social benefit by growing the economy—although the reality often falls short. So why don’t we provide appropriate finance for low-carbon housing?

We need to recognise that the emerging reality in energy and climate is a shift from governments and big business making big long-term investments to individuals and small businesses investing in on-site energy efficiency (appliances and buildings), renewables, storage and smarts. So we need structures that support such action—for tenants, vulnerable households, financially stressed households, small businesses and communities.

Supporting great causes is one way to manage guilt and frustration about climate change. The ATA’s project to install solar-powered lighting units in remote East Timorese villages involves and educates the whole community. Give the Gift of Light: Photo: Susanna Rossi.

Managing guilt and distress on climate change
It’s coming up to Christmas and summer. It’s a time of reflection and celebration, and guilt and frustration for many who are working towards a better world. It’s also the beginning of what could be a nasty bushfire season, driven by ongoing climate change.

How much responsibility should I take for action to cut climate impacts?

This question exercises my mind quite a bit. I’m lucky, in that I can (at least occasionally) point to policies, programs or actions I’ve helped to implement that have shifted national, state or local governments. More often, I can see action I’ve taken that has simply helped to reduce the back-sliding as anti-climate action groups, powerful interests and captive policy makers push their agendas.

In my personal life I, like many others, do what I can to cut my impacts and support positive local action. But it’s difficult for many people to feel they have done enough. One lesson from life cycle analysis is that we depend on many complex systems to deliver the services and products we rely on. While the final buyer could, in theory, select low-carbon, ethical options, there are serious practical barriers.

Information is scarce, and the indirect influence of financiers, governments and decision-makers within the supply chain has effects on environmental and social impacts that can’t be easily unravelled. In particular, most people depend upon governments to provide infrastructure to allow them to travel to work with minimum impact, design cities to deliver equitable outcomes, and set and enforce rules for industry and business to behave responsibly and report on their impacts.

Australian governments have, on the whole, failed to support people who want to deliver a low-carbon, equitable and successful society and economy. What can I do if the only realistic way I can get to work involves driving a car a long distance on a congested road?

Governments have a serious governance problem: even if an individual government does good work, there is no guarantee that this will not be unravelled by a future government. And they seem to be prepared to facilitate projects that add to our problems, providing finance, regulating to support and turning a ‘blind eye’ to failures. Just look at the chronic failures in energy markets, housing, transport and climate policy!

So where does this leave those of us who want to make a difference on climate issues?

We can do lots within our own lives, using less fossil fuel, buying less ‘stuff’ and buying less of the ‘stuff’ that we are confident has a high impact. Some things matter a lot more than others: the steel and cement in building construction is emissions-intensive. While beef and lamb are emissions-intensive, so are highly processed foods and visits to energy inefficient restaurants. Driving to shops and inefficient old fridges can also be significant contributors to a household’s emissions. We need much better consumer guidance. But we also need to look beyond this: a modern, sustainable society should not involve wearing hair shirts and freezing in the dark!

Those of us who have some capital could help others to afford clean energy solutions by investing in funds that finance rooftop solar and energy efficiency measures for vulnerable households (e.g. Corena and ClearSky Solar, or look for local community groups investing in solar projects). These investments can deliver a good, reliable return while helping others to be part of the solution instead of victims. Owners of rental properties can install low-emission equipment and upgrade performance while, in many cases, capturing tax deductions and depreciation allowances.

One of my favourite Christmas and birthday strategies is to buy friends and relatives carbon offsets instead of presents. The UN website ( allows you to choose projects that deliver useful economic and social outcomes as well as cutting emissions. While some people criticise the UN offset scheme (with some justification) because it lacks rigour, by choosing your projects, you can guarantee some benefit. And the pragmatic reality is that, if you and I don’t buy and surrender these offsets without emitting, big businesses and slow-moving governments (like ours) can buy and surrender them because they are ‘legal currency’ in the global abatement scheme. And we should buy them while they’re cheap!

Government priorities and actions matter. So harassing your representatives of local, state and national governments is important. Community action, both for advocacy and practical projects, is vitally important. The reality is that governments are mostly followers, not leaders, so community leadership is powerful.

Lastly, we should applaud people, communities, businesses and organisations, and even politicians, who take significant action on climate. They need all the support we can give them. And maybe we can celebrate a bit with the odd glass of Australian red wine from a cask—much lower carbon impact than white wine from a bottle!

The Energy Efficiency Council awards include a gong for Energy Efficiency Champion for “an individual who has advanced the energy efficiency sector through outstanding advocacy, research, education or projects.” That’s a neat summary of the efforts of regular ReNew contributor Alan Pears, who took out the award in November 2017, to a standing ovation.

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant. He writes a column in each issue of ReNew: you can buy an e-book of Alan’s columns from 1997 to 2016 at

This article was first published in ReNew 142.


The Pears Report: Summertime, and the living ain’t easy

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With summer approaching, there’s a flurry of activity to ensure reliable energy generation under peak loads. We also need to look at the way our Star-rated buildings cope in the heat, says Alan Pears.

THOSE who have watched in bemusement the large numbers of new homes with black roofs and no eaves might be interested in some recent research. This has found that our 6 Star regulations are doing a good job of reducing winter heating energy use. But the way some designers use the rating tools may be making summer performance worse.


Basically, it’s possible in most locations to meet the 6 Star regulations with measures that improve winter performance. But this means homes can still let in summer sun and their improved insulation means they can behave like solar ovens, cooking their occupants. This can be relatively easily fixed by installing effective summer shading and also looking at orientation and areas of glazing.

Summer overheating is not benign. Analysis of outcomes during the very hot week preceding Melbourne’s 2009 Black Saturday fires showed that, just as extreme hot weather drives big peaks in cooling energy demand, it causes other peaks, too (see Twice as many people died from the heat in the days leading up to the fires as died in the fires. 374 people died, 62% more than in the same period the year before, many of them elderly.

Pressures on health services peaked. There was a 46% increase in ambulance callouts, with a 34-fold increase in heat-related conditions. Hospital emergency departments saw a 12% increase in demand, with an eight-fold increase in heat-related problems. There was almost a three-fold increase in patients dead on arrival.

RMIT research (a 2016 PhD by Niki Willand based on detailed analysis of a CSIRO field study), found the analysed 5 and 6 Star-rated homes were hotter than 4 Star ones on average, and had higher cooling energy use. This is due to the ‘solar oven’ effect. A 6 Star house can be designed to work well all year round, but winter performance dominates the rating rules.

None of the costs and human impacts of these statistics have been factored into national building code considerations. Indeed, it seems there will be no major changes to the regulations until at least 2022.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. The Victorian government’s new apartment planning guidelines include reasonably strong summer cooling energy limits (see as well as the annual energy limits. These will force designers of apartment buildings to rethink their approach. Let’s hope this spreads to all new homes.

The trend towards dark roofs is watched in bemusement by those concerned with summertime overheating of our houses. Image: iStock—mbolina

Energy pricing demands a response
When energy assets were being sold off, many politicians thought that people would blame the industry for any problems, not governments. Sorry guys. Everyone knows you write the rules and supposedly enforce them.

So governments are finally acting, after blackouts, skyrocketing prices and evidence that vulnerable households are worst affected. This is a crisis for neoclassical economics, which has driven energy (and other) reforms based on competition and ‘light-handed’ regulation.

The energy market is basically working the way it was designed to: high prices signal the need to invest in more supply capacity—and energy efficiency has never been on the agenda. Businesses exploit weak regulation and lack of enforcement to capture profit and shift costs onto others. The recent coal power station closures and high gas prices have really been the first test of the market’s design: it has failed.

Business and households both prefer stable, predictable, affordable energy costs and increasingly they simply can’t function without reliable electricity supply. Gas consumers have been lulled into complacency by extremely low prices for decades. They have been stunned by the effects of suddenly opening up gas markets to international prices, combined with exploitation of local shortages by gas suppliers.

There is now a flurry of activity. States are reinforcing supply and adding storage capacity. Rooftop solar and new large-scale renewable energy are both booming.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) have bypassed the energy market to set up a long-overdue demand response mechanism. Consumers who agree to cut back power usage at critical times will be paid for their efforts. This was first called for by the 2002 Parer Review and energy policymakers have studiously avoided implementing it since then.

ARENA has been swamped by offers. It was looking for 170 megawatts (MW) of demand response. Bidders have offered 693 MW by December this year and 1938 MW by December 2018 (see Why am I not surprised?

So summer power supply now seems secure. Indeed, South Australia may need less emergency generation capacity than expected. We should be using this short-term breather to invest aggressively in energy efficiency, to lock-in lower demand and lower energy costs. No guarantees on that though, given past performance.

Billing reform
Federal and state governments finally seem to have realised that consumer electricity prices have three big components: wholesale energy price, delivery costs (mainly network infrastructure) and retail charges (including fixed charges). All must be addressed, but they require different strategies.

The Victorian government (see and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission are running inquiries into retailer charges. There is evidence that consumers who fail to seek out discount deals or can’t meet criteria such as paying on time via direct debit are paying a lot more than ‘engaged’ customers. So vulnerable customers are paying higher prices; so much for social justice.

Prime Minister Turnbull has called energy retailers to Canberra to discuss this and retailers have agreed to some changes. These include attempts to better inform consumers when fixed-term contracts finish. Late payment of a bill will no longer mean a consumer loses access to discounts. What a breakthrough! I’m hopeful that the Victorian government will take stronger action.

Driving prices up
Electricity network operators have over-invested to maximise profit. They have been able to overrule the weak Australian Energy Regulator in the courts, adding billions to consumer costs.

The federal government plans to block the operators’ right to appeal (see Over time, that will help to bring network charges down. But it won’t be enough: asset values are way above likely market values in an emerging fair market and only asset write-downs will fix that. Policymakers and governments seem reluctant to unravel this welfare scheme for powerful incumbents.

Wholesale electricity prices have been driven up by a combination of factors, including Tony Abbott’s war on renewables (see my column in ReNew 139), closure of coal power stations, the gas price explosion and failure to drive energy efficiency and demand response. While gas prices seem likely to stay high, their impact on wholesale prices should be reduced by the responses outlined earlier.

But we do need to recognise that, in the past, wholesale electricity prices have been held unsustainably low by excess generation capacity. Regardless of the types of new generation built, it will be a challenge to achieve big price reductions for this cost component unless we manage to engineer oversupply by driving demand down and encouraging new renewables beyond both state and national targets.

Governments and policymakers still seem to be struggling to grasp that it is the total bill, not the unit price, that impacts on consumers’ hip pockets. Greater emphasis on energy efficiency, so we use less and pay less, and reducing outrageously high fixed charges would help.

Climate change is driving extreme temperatures. Very warm monthly daytime temperatures that occurred just over 2% of the time in 1951–1980 now occur over 11% of the time. Source: Bureau of Meteorology Australia,

Energy past, present and future
Sometimes it’s interesting to look back, to understand how things evolve. I was recently asked to look at historical energy use in Australia, which raised some interesting points.

Energy consumption (measured at the meter or fuel bowser) has more than quadrupled since 1961, while carbon emissions have increased by a factor of almost five. Energy-related emissions per person have more than doubled.

Oil has maintained a roughly 50% share, although more of it was used for non-transport purposes like heating in 1961, before the oil crisis and availability of cheap gas. Today around three-quarters is used for transport.

Home and business wood use has fallen from 18% to 2% of total energy, while direct coal use has crashed from 23% to just 3%. Gas has been the big winner, increasing from 2% to 20%!

Electricity’s share of energy has doubled from 10% to 20%, with renewables providing only 14% of electricity today compared with 19% in 1961. This reflects the shift towards a services economy that is more reliant on electricity, as well as the trend towards more electric technologies in homes.

It will be interesting to watch how things evolve, as we move towards a zero emission economy, gas prices increase, and efficiency and renewables transform electricity use and emissions. S

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant. He writes a column in each issue of ReNew: you can buy an e-book of Alan’s columns from 1997 to 2016 at

This article was first published in ReNew 141.


The Pears Report: Far from the madding policy

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Are we finally moving from energy policy madness to policy making? Alan Pears explores the glimmers of hope.

THE THREAT of electricity blackouts in southern Australia next summer and our bizarre ‘gas crisis’ seem to be dragging us out of the rock-throwing approach to energy policy making.


Stabilising the situation in southern Australia
While initially the debate over South Australia’s problems was about supply, the need to stabilise the situation before next summer has driven some useful developments on both the demand and supply sides.

A call for bids to provide battery storage resulted in 31 bids. Rooftop solar is booming, and large-scale solar and wind are going gangbusters.
This highlights how fast our 21st century energy industry can respond. It also shows how risky those big projects that take years to implement are. Even PM Turnbull’s ideas for Snowy and Tasmanian hydro will struggle to compete in the new world of modular, distributed energy solutions.

We have also seen a belated recognition that demand response can fix short-term problems. Demand response involves aggregators contracting businesses to cut demand or run backup generators at short notice—when paid a fair price for their contribution. This provides guaranteed reduction in electricity (or gas) demand, reducing the need for additional supply capacity.

It is widely used in other parts of the world, but our energy policy makers have been glacially slow in establishing a framework. States will need to set up demand response mechanisms through energy retailers, which they still regulate, as national regulators are very unlikely to act quickly enough.

Since first writing this, AEMO and ARENA have announced a demand response pilot project ( of 100 megawatts. This is great, as someone is finally responding to the obvious: demand response is the quickest, cheapest way of avoiding blackouts. But the way this is being done has also exposed how broken our national energy market system is: they have had to work around the normal mechanisms. We need much more demand response capacity to break the market power of the gas and coal generators, so there is still a need for states to use their powers over energy retailers to drive demand response.

Energy efficiency programs could also help. When SA suffered blackouts because of a 90 megawatt (MW) shortfall, demand was around 3000 MW. At that time, household cooling was probably over 1000 MW: an ongoing building and air conditioner energy efficiency program could have avoided the problem, as shown in the graph on the next page.

The gas crisis
A sudden increase in wholesale gas prices and the difficulties many industries have had even negotiating new gas contracts have uncovered chronic failure in gas policy. It has also exposed the reality that many former energy ministers and politicians work for the gas (and oil and coal) industry.

For decades, Australian governments have proudly described our low energy prices as a competitive advantage—which has led local industry to complacently maintain appallingly inefficient use of energy. But governments have quietly supported an ‘open’ economy, including world parity pricing for oil and gas. These two positions have never been reconciled. The recent gas crisis has exposed a lot of skeletons.

The suddenness of the shift in east coast gas prices has shocked almost everyone. Yet a 2014 study by Deloitte Access Economics1 predicted a multi-billion dollar shift in annual income to the gas industry from other industries, and over 10,000 job losses.

The gas problem has spilled over to electricity, as high-priced gas generation has replaced lower-priced alternatives, due to factors including Abbott’s war on renewables (see The Pears Report in ReNew 139) and closures of old coal generators.

Logical policy would have assisted or required gas users to improve efficiency as markets were gradually exposed to global prices. But we have inadequately regulated, poorly designed markets.

I wasn’t surprised when the government intervened. A situation where Australians are paying more for gas than countries we export gas to clearly does not pass the PM’s ‘pub test’.

Energy efficiency and productivity—glimmers of hope
Most of Australia’s energy efficiency policies focus on providing consumer information and setting fairly weak standards for new equipment and buildings. Policies providing information on building performance at time of resale or lease are emerging. For existing buildings and equipment, limited information and energy auditing programs dominate. The ACT, NSW, Victoria and South Australia offer financial incentives for some activities under their energy retailer obligation schemes.

While these programs have delivered useful savings, they fall well short of an optimum outcome for society. Many of the benefits they deliver are not even measured or costed, and levels of ambition are low.

To put this in context, Australia is supposedly trying to implement climate policies at least cost. Our energy efficiency policies deliver tens of millions of tonnes of emission reductions at costs of minus $20 to minus $200 per tonne of avoided emissions. Put another way, they often offer benefit to cost ratios of around 8 to 1—saving Australians $8 for each dollar invested. Yet the Emission Reduction Fund pays around $12 per tonne of emissions avoided.

Yes, we have our National Energy Productivity Plan (with funding of $18 million), the $200 million NSW five-year plan and many others. But we spend tens of billions of dollars each year wasting energy. And if we included the cost of carbon emissions, that waste would increase by more billions. We have the balance very wrong.

One problem in mobilising improved energy efficiency and productivity is that decision-makers rarely invest in energy saving measures costing more than two or three times their annual savings—a two or three year payback. This is equivalent to delivering 30% to 50% annual interest. We don’t expect that from any other investment, including renewable energy.

There are lots of reasons for this that I’m not going into here. What interests me is that the potential to change this financially disastrous situation is beginning to take shape.

Residential peak electricity demand for South Australia, 2015. This shows the activities contributing to household electricity demand at the times of summer and winter peaks, compared with their average contributions when annual consumption is divided by the number of hours in a year. Over the whole year, heating and cooling is a relatively small proportion of average electricity demand, but it is a large proportion of the (much higher) summer and winter peak demand. Source: EnergyConsult.

Beyond energy audits
It is difficult to pinpoint the actual causes of energy waste in many appliances, buildings and industrial processes. Traditional auditing and sub-metering approaches don’t pick up many less obvious problems. Even when a problem is identified, someone has to do something about it. This costs money and time, and diverts focus from core activities. It involves risks, such as working with a contractor you haven’t used before or changing a process central to delivering your business income or your health or safety. And you have to find the money upfront.

Sophisticated analytical techniques are emerging that reduce or avoid the need for physical energy audits and sub-metering. Dynamic real-time benchmarking against models that predict ‘ideal’ performance can identify emerging problems and alert operators. Machine learning can identify the energy-consuming characteristics of each item of equipment to work out where energy is wasted as well as how much (see for example this CSIRO project:

These systems can calculate the cost of energy waste. They can also offer businesses and households tangible benefits that are often worth far more than the value of the energy saved, such as avoiding failure of a production line. Avoiding loss of a fridge full of food or avoiding the need to quickly replace a failed hot water service can avert a family crisis: what’s that worth?

New financing models
Another changing dimension is the emergence of new financing options to remove upfront cost barriers, not just for energy efficiency investments but for renewables, storage and other options. Financing can be packaged with ongoing monitoring and management systems and other services.

More households and businesses are placing value on insuring themselves against price rises and reliability issues of conventional energy systems, while the costs of alternatives are falling and their user-friendliness is improving.

Innovation across many fields is transforming energy and resource requirements and fundamental business design for delivery of many products and services, and converting demand for products (and infrastructure) into services. Online shopping, health care and many other services create remarkable changes. Distributed manufacturing, 3D printing, computerised design, prefabricated building and many other changes are transforming production. Many also fit well with development of ‘closed loop’ resource use.

My awareness of these remarkable changes was raised recently by my involvement in writing a report for the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity.2 This report scans emerging innovations that may have a big impact on energy productivity and efficiency. It is amazing how much is happening, even in Australia. There may yet be hope for Australia to become a low-carbon, successful 21st century economy! S

1. Deloitte Access Economics: ‘Gas Market Transformations— Economic Consequences for the Manufacturing Sector’,
2. Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2eEP): ‘The Next Wave’,

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant. He writes a column in each issue of ReNew: you can buy an e-book of Alan’s columns from 1997 to 2016, complete with analysis of a range of energy policy themes, at

This article was first published in ReNew 140.


“Heartening” doubling of Victorian feed-in tariff

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The ATA (ReNew’s publisher) has welcomed the Victorian Government move to more than double the minimum solar feed-in tariff . From 1 July 2017, the feed-in tariff for rooftop solar in Victoria will increase from 5 cents to 11.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, benefitting about 130,000 households. The change follows findings by the Essential Services Commission (ESC) in its report last year on the energy value of distributed generation.

“It’s very heartening for solar households in Victoria to have a government that is serious about renewable energy,” says Damien Moyse, the ATA’s policy and research manager. “We also congratulate the ESC for its work on the issue over the past 18 months.”

The ATA contends that solar households and businesses across Australia provide greater value into the national electricity market than the narrow methodology used to calculate feed-in tariffs up until now. The new feed-in tariff is closer to recognising the full value that distributed generation brings to our energy market, which is important as solar and other demand-side technologies continue to play a greater role in our energy mix.

We at both ReNew and the ATA would like to see other states following Victoria and accurately reflecting the value of distributed generation through their feed-in tariffs.

For analysis by Jack Gilding on the best range for feed-in tariffs, see here.

Greenhouse emissions data

Phasing out fossil fuels

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Professor Peter Newman contends that our cities are driving a change which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from both coal and oil.

IN 2016 the International Energy Agency announced that the world had changed. For the first time in hundreds of years the world was producing less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the year before without this being caused by an economic crisis1. In 2015 the amount of GHG emitted to the world’s atmosphere decreased by around 0.5% while economic growth continued at more than 3%. A few scientists had predicted this, but mostly the fossil fuel lobby had been in complete denial over its possibility2.


As Figure 1 shows, for the first time the industrial world was producing wealth without this meaning more fossil fuels and more emissions. Despite its huge implications for a world that has faced the global climate issue for decades without much good news, the world’s media were virtually silent.

China is now decoupling their economic growth from GHG very rapidly as shown in Figure 2. This provides great hope that the process will now spread to the whole emerging world. China invested $90 billion in renewables in 2015 (more than 60% of their investment in energy), so much of their continuing growth will be based around solar and wind rather than the fossil fuel-based economic growth of the past 15 years.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

The Pears Report

The Pears Report – don’t mention the war

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Tony’s war on renewables may be ongoing, but what has been the effect? It’s not such an easy war to win, writes Alan Pears.

TONY Abbott did his best to kill off renewable energy when he was PM—and he’s still trying it seems. But it is interesting to look back at the consequences of his efforts. The war on renewables was meant to reduce electricity prices. But it has done the opposite—and a lot more.


The big negative for renewables has been that the uncertainty created by the war led to a collapse in investment in large renewable energy projects. And the compromise 2020 large-scale renewable energy target (LRET), reduced from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh, is now driving much less renewable energy development.

However, even the reduced LRET still means a lot of renewable generation capacity has to be built fast, from a near standing start, to generate 55% more renewable electricity than was produced in 2016, by 2020.

A report for the Clean Energy Regulator ( estimates an additional 6000 MW of generation capacity will be needed to meet the reduced 2020 target—a doubling of the renewable generation capacity installed since 2001. This has driven up the price of large-scale generation certificates (LGCs) from a long-term price of $30–$40 to $80–$90 (see box).

So it is now very profitable to build new renewable generation capacity under the LRET, and we are seeing a boom. Of course, Mr Abbott can now complain about the high price of renewables—that he caused by frightening investors which, in turn, has led to a shortage of new renewable capacity and LGCs. As in all markets, a shortage has driven up prices.

But Australian media have noticed that renewable energy prices for new generation everywhere else, and in bids for ACT government auctions (which are outside and additional to the LRET), are falling. Without the LRET uncertainty, LGC prices should have been stable or even falling as more new, cheaper generation was built.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.


100% renewables – how feasible is it?

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With ongoing discussion by government and media about the effect of renewables on the grid, the ATA’s Andrew Reddaway and Damien Moyse consider the feasibility of 100% renewables for Australia.

THE ATA (ReNew’s publisher) supports a transition from fossil fuels to renewable generation in Australia’s electricity grid.
As well as being important to meet our international commitments to fight climate change, this brings other benefits such as improved local health outcomes, greater energy security and more jobs.


However, as this transition progresses we must ensure the grid remains reliable and avoid economic hardship. How can this be achieved as we approach 100% renewables? This article considers the challenges of relying on intermittent generation, ways to address those challenges and a plan for moving forward.

Read the full article in this month’s longform.

Read more articles in ReNew 138.


The Pears Report: Reflections on reflections

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Two decades on and 75+ ReNew columns later, Alan Pears is still positive about our clean energy future. How does he do it? Alan reflects on the clean energy facts we all need to know.

It was a real thrill to launch the eBook of my first 75 ReNew columns at the recent All-Energy conference in Melbourne. The ATA team did a great job in production and organising the launch. And I really appreciated former Greens leader Christine Milne’s contribution through writing the foreword.


One thought-provoking question from the audience at the launch was: “Don’t you get bored because we just keep going round in circles on energy policy?” Indeed, this question set me thinking: how do I remain so enthusiastic and positive about energy transformation, when progress is so much slower than it should be?


I’m lucky. I work across a wide range of issues and with a lot of different people. So there is always something positive happening—somewhere. Even when things look stuck or are going backwards on the surface, it is usually possible to find some underlying positive innovation or a subtle shift in the fine print. I also have a tendency to look for the fundamentals, whether it is the underlying physics that shows how inefficient we are, or why and how people react the ways they do. I am always learning.

I also feel pleased that, over almost 20 years, I have provided ReNew readers with an insider’s perspective—from an independent, sometimes practical, sometimes naively idealistic person—on events, trends and possibilities on energy and climate issues.

I also recognise that those of us who drive change have to make a strong case and present it well. People need good reasons to change. And they need to feel confident that change won’t have adverse consequences for them, their families and friends. Of course, powerful vested interests manipulate the situation to highlight the risks of change and overstate the benefits of sticking with the status quo. The blockers have slowed (and sometimes reversed) change, cost Australia many billions of dollars and amplified the cost and pain from climate change, but their effectiveness does force change agents like me to do our homework—over and over again! And to become more creative and effective in communicating and influencing.

At the same time, I have felt my share of despair and anger as sensible policy has been blocked, reversed and abused. I have been frustrated as I have seen exciting technological and social developments squashed, and abuse of power run rampant. A few issues have caused me serious distress.

The appalling story of Australia’s energy market reform process is almost beyond belief, even for me at my most cynical. The naivety, arrogance and ruthlessness of key players and the failure of our leaders to pull them into line stand out. The unnecessary cost and pain of this process is beyond calculation.

The fact that, over 40 years after we realised that people want services, not energy, we still have an industry focused on providing more energy and trying to perpetuate the myth that we need more energy to build a better economy is truly devastating. The failure to integrate climate and energy policy, when fossil fuels produce three-quarters of Australia’s climate impact, will go down as one of the most tragic leadership failures of our time. Maybe that is belatedly beginning to change.

I am also struggling to understand how, 25 years after I helped introduce Australia’s first building energy regulations, some powerful building industry groups oppose sensible energy regulation even more aggressively and more righteously than they did then. Something is really wrong.

As we debate how to manage the closure of old coal-fired power stations, and the problems faced recently by South Australia with volatile energy prices and blackouts, I am completely bemused by the ensuing debate—and the level of ignorance, vitriol and blatant lying shown among the debaters. I am also (yet again) puzzled that the debate makes little or no reference to the major roles energy efficiency improvement and smart demand management could play in delivering solutions.

The election of Donald Trump as US president reinforces the need to focus on what we can do. I’m reminded of the old saying that smart people learn from the mistakes of others, while the not-so-smart have to make their own mistakes. Unfortunately, the education of Mr Trump on climate and basic energy trends will be very costly. But I hope it inspires many to do more, just as Tony Abbott’s war against climate and clean energy policy has had some surprisingly positive outcomes in Australia.

Some clean energy facts
So we don’t have to waste even more time debating our energy future, I thought it might be useful if I listed a few things we really know about energy.

1. Leave it in the ground
Two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions and three-quarters of Australia’s emissions result from fossil fuel extraction and burning. Most of the world’s existing ‘profitable’ fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. Spending money on exploration and building extra fossil fuel supply capacity is money down the drain.

2. We know it creates more jobs
An energy-efficient renewable energy future creates more jobs than conventional energy, because most of the new jobs are in light manufacturing and services sectors, which are much more employment-intensive and much less capital-intensive than traditional energy supply industries. We have known this for decades.

3. And it’s cheaper
An energy-efficient, renewable energy future will be cheaper than a ‘conventional’ energy future, even if we don’t introduce a carbon price. Much of our existing energy supply infrastructure will have to be replaced over the next few decades anyway, so comparison of the cost of a clean energy future with existing energy costs is invalid—the real choice is between different investments, and should include a science-based carbon price. A lot of energy efficiency potential is profitable (the ‘lunch you are paid to eat’ as pointed out by Amory Lovins decades ago). While renewable energy has been expensive in the past, costs are declining rapidly (and performance is improving), and it already seems to be cheaper or similar in cost to building new traditional energy plants. Interestingly, a clean energy future will also be mostly privatised—in a democratic way.

4. Plus more reliable and resilient
A well-designed, efficient renewable energy system should be more reliable and resilient than a centralised system, as local energy storage, smart management and generation reduce reliance on networks (where most disruptions occur) and transmission lines. Debate about supply of base load power can only be described as outdated and misinformed.

5. Developing countries benefit too
An efficient, clean energy future offers many developing countries multiple benefits including lower energy import costs, better services to the rural poor and lower pollution.

6. Transport is not just about EVs
Transport is a very challenging energy problem, not because it can’t be fixed, but because very few countries and cities even understand the fundamental problems. A car-based society is not practical, equitable or economic. Electric cars are only a small part of the solution. Virtual service delivery and workplaces, coordinated planning, comprehensive public transport, low-speed electric vehicles (with suitable infrastructure, speed limits and rules to ensure safety for all, including pedestrians), and better-organised walkable cities are needed.

7. Fly lower and less
Air travel is a much bigger climate problem than most people realise. The overall warming effect of air travel is two to five times the value calculated using Kyoto carbon accounting. And most of this impact is due to the release of emissions at high altitude, not CO2—so switching to renewable aircraft fuel doesn’t fix the problem. Flying lower and less, and transitioning to electric aircraft, will be necessary.

8. New buildings remain a problem
We are constructing buildings and urban infrastructure that will be future liabilities, not assets. And we are not providing the necessary infrastructure to support a successful economy and equitable, enjoyable lifestyles. The failures are deep and systemic. I really don’t know how we fix this one.

9. Add monitoring to appliances
Our appliances and equipment are ‘dumb’, as well as inefficient. They must all have built-in real-time monitoring, benchmarking and feedback systems so faults are detected, operation is optimised and inefficient products are exposed.

10. Skills currently in short supply
We have very limited numbers of designers, tradespeople, professionals and customers who are competent to deliver energy-efficient low-carbon solutions. We have poor supply chains to deliver what is needed. Training capacity is limited and certification weak. We have few incentives and many disincentives regarding sensible decision-making and action.

Overall, it’s a miracle we have progressed as far as we have! Based on our track record, it will also be a miracle if humanity gets out of the hole we’ve dug without a lot of pain, misery and conflict. But we have the tools and some smart people. The problems are our leadership, short-sightedness, the misguided fear we will be worse off in a clean energy future, and lack of vision and practical focus.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant.

This article was first published in ReNew 138.


Finding value in sharing

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Can we find value for both customers and the network in sharing locally generated energy and thus accelerate a transition to 100% renewables? Bruce Thompson and Paul Murfitt discuss the potential in microgrids, virtual power plants and more.

The transformation of the electricity network is certainly now upon us. Years of environmental advocacy, rapid technology advances and shifts in consumer demand are driving an unprecedented shake up of our century-old supply network. With this change come opportunities (and some risks) to harness the value of renewable energy across the grid as we drive towards zero emissions.


Traditionally, Australia’s electricity networks were largely built and controlled by state governments, and operated as central power supply systems managed with two policy imperatives in mind: security of supply and cost-effectiveness. The much-heralded disruption is turning this system upside down, bringing technical and financial challenges along with opportunities.

The big shift to date has been ‘behind the meter’, where there is a clear case for householders and businesses to invest in solar PV to avoid the cost of conventional energy supply. Yet establishing value ‘in front of the meter’—sharing your locally generated energy across the grid—has so far been fraught.

With the tapering off of feed-in-tariffs, owners of solar have been frustrated they don’t receive a fair price for their homegrown generation. On the other side of the fence, network operators have been aggrieved by the need to manage the technical impacts of solar PV and wind while their business model ‘death spirals’ from lower consumption.

Beyond the angst, new models such as microgrids and virtual power plants are starting to demonstrate that sharing solar PV generation and battery storage across the grid can leverage the opportunities and help manage the risks inherent in Australia’s changing electricity sector. For customers, potential benefits include access to wholesale pricing and retail tariffs. For networks, there can be lower costs from local control and load management, particularly if the models can reduce peak demand and avoid the need for network infrastructure augmentation.

Of course, the value of sharing locally generated energy across the grid is dependent on the time of day, the time of year and the location. The key challenge for ‘in front of the meter’ solutions is not only to understand the technology, but also to apply the fundamental principles of supply and demand to determine where the greatest value can be realised.

Bruce Thompson recently joined GreenSync as the Community Development Director following 12 years at Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) as major projects director. He is also the outgoing chair of the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE). Paul Murfitt was recently appointed director of energy efficiency for the Victorian Government and is the outgoing CEO of MEFL.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.


Electric vehicles: the market in Australia and overseas

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Bryce Gaton reports on the evolution of government support and global carmakers’ production plans, which together are driving uptake of electric vehicles.

This year has seen a plane fuelled only by the sun travel around the world, a plethora of home electric storage systems come on the market, Australian households with solar PV systems pass the 1.5 million mark and a Tesla Model S travel from Sydney to Broome. Given 2016 is just past halfway through, what else is to come? Is 2016 to become the year that the hoped-for seismic shift in sustainable transport, energy sourcing and use truly begins?


The power to change things is more in our hands than ever before and I will offer examples from around the world that hopefully we can look back on in 20 to 30 years time to say, “We really did start the sustainable transition then!”

Electric cars around the world

Right now, pure EVs with a 300+km range—the ‘Bolt’—are rolling off the Chevrolet production line to arrive in US showrooms in the last quarter of this year.

Similarly, Mercedes, Volvo, Renault, Nissan, BMW, Kia and many other Chinese makers already offer pure EVs in their lineups, and most of these have announced plans to match the 300+km range of the Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Mercedes is releasing plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and even Jaguar is rumoured to be well down the track in developing an electric sedan and SUV to match the belatedly perceived threat to their core market from Tesla’s Models S and X.

And VW, as part of its mea culpa for the dieselgate emissions scandal, has recently announced plans to heavily move into electric vehicle design and production.

Overall, the trend towards less polluting vehicles continues, with global uptake of EVs and PHEVs climbing at an increasing rate, growing from 45,000 EVs sold in 2011 to more than 300,000 in 2014 (see Figure 1). EVs represent more than 1% of total new car sales in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA (closer to 20% for Norway). And in China, 2014 saw 230 million e-bikes, 83,000 electric cars and 36,500 e-buses hit the road.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.


The Pears Report: Post-election shakeout

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Alan Pears takes a closer look at the interesting energy picture post the election.

THE energy picture is now fascinating. Energy (and environment) minister Frydenberg faces some short-term challenges. He must sort out the electricity and gas market messes. Strongly critical senate inquiries and a scathing Productivity Commission report look even more credible after problems with Basslink and South Australian electricity prices and supply, and high and volatile gas prices that have also driven up electricity prices.


The new Liquefied Natural Gas export plants in Queensland face serious financial problems, while creating traumas for industrial gas and electricity users. Powerful energy companies are using their market power to block competition. And greenhouse gas emissions from energy are increasing.

These challenges are compounded by the government’s weak post-2020 energy and climate policies that contrast with its international commitment to cut emissions by 26–28% by 2030.

One change that may help the minister is the separation of the resources sector from energy and environment. This may reduce the influence of some powerful interest groups on management of our energy future—and about time, too.

When industries decline

The financial sector has noticed that the fossil fuel industry is in decline and has responded by reassessing the value of fossil fuel assets—downwards. Once decline is clearly locked in, a number of forces emerge.

First, as ‘higher cost’ mining facilities are sold off at bargain prices, their new owners can cut prices, driving a ‘death spiral’ as lower cost mining facilities face tougher competition.

In the past, large businesses stopped the spiral by buying up smaller, higher cost producers then ‘managing’ their production, so that the demand-supply balance was restored at reasonable prices. Low cost producers might even flood the market with cheap product, to kill off their higher cost competitors, as has been happening in the global oil and iron ore markets.

But a combination of global economic problems and growth of competing solutions is blocking a return to ‘normality’ in the fossil fuel and mining sectors. In our world of disruptive solutions, these competing solutions include energy efficiency, renewable energy, shifts to high efficiency electric technologies, ‘virtual’ solutions replacing physical ones and radically different business models.

This highlights the failure of industries and policymakers to grasp a fundamental that US energy expert Amory Lovins was pointing out in the 1970s. People do not want materials, infrastructure, products or energy: they want services that provide ‘perceived value’, regardless of how they are delivered.

Another major outcome of an industry’s decline is that it loses many of the hidden benefits communities and governments have been providing it. Indeed, demands for more accountability and better performance build, just when the industry’s capacity to deliver them is declining.

As people realise that fly-in-fly-out, highly mechanised mines and power stations don’t create many local jobs—so there won’t be jobs for their kids—and that they pollute and undermine other economic activity, they are much less tolerant of mining and fossil fuels. At the same time, coal seam gas and mega-mines have much more visible impact. Concerns about mine rehabilitation are not being addressed, resources companies are cutting corners and government regulators are failing to hold them to account. Communities are realising they will be left holding the ticking bombs.

At a government level, community pressure and the need to maintain revenues while finding money for mine rehabilitation and decommissioning of old power stations are driving efforts to capture more revenue from fossil fuel and resources industries. In the past, policymakers simply discounted these future costs to negligible levels, but that doesn’t work now. Governments now realise that if the mining industry doesn’t pay, it will hit their budget bottom lines—soon.

Industry advertising campaigns, misuse of statistics and ‘behind closed door’ lobbying have successfully blocked higher taxes and stronger controls in the past. But as an industry’s influence declines, these strategies don’t work as well.

At the same time, it is possible for an industry, governments and communities to maintain denial about unstoppable trends for a surprisingly long time. Indeed, there will be bargains for buyers of some mines, and smart owners can use new technology and creative business models to cut costs, out-compete others and shift risk.

It is also in the interests of existing businesses to try to maintain confidence: not only does each extra month of production produce a lot of money, but it gives them more time to sell off assets to poorly-informed buyers, and to move into new areas of activity.

As they say, change is a time of threat and opportunity.

Where to for industrial, business and home heat?

In Australia, the focus of climate and energy policy has been electricity. It’s a core input to essential energy services, it’s expensive, and it’s responsible for a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. But provision of heat is responsible for half as much climate impact as electricity, or as much as transport. And often the equipment that uses gas or oil uses a lot of electricity as well. Recent rapid increases in gas prices and price volatility have focused attention on reducing dependence on gas, much of which provides heat.

Australia’s emissions from burning fuels for heat production are broken down in the pie chart above. There is exciting potential to cut these emissions by measures including improved energy efficiency, rethinking industrial processes to reduce the need for heat, and switching from gas and oil to high efficiency electric technologies driven by renewable electricity.

Many households are already moving away from gas to high efficiency reverse-cycle air conditioners, heat pump water heaters and induction cooking. But we need better-insulated hot water tanks and ovens, as well as thermally efficient buildings and smart electricity management systems, to minimise costs and maximise benefits.

In the commercial sector, gas use, mainly for space heating, hot water and cooking, is often appallingly inefficient. Inefficient (often old and poorly maintained) boilers, large losses from pipes and ducts, poor control systems, thermally poor buildings, and inefficient gas cooking provide very large potential for savings. Past low gas prices have led many to be sloppy in their use of gas.

Gas use in industry is often surprisingly inefficient, too. When losses from poorly insulated steam pipes and leaky fittings, ancient and inefficient boilers up to 50 years old and inefficient process equipment are considered, the waste is staggering. Under the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program (shut down by the Abbott government, despite outstanding cost-effectiveness and global recognition), companies were required to develop computer models of the energy and material flows through their processes and to benchmark efficiency against theoretical optimums. Many firms, and their experienced engineers, were very surprised by the scale of inefficiency and the scope for cost-effective efficiency improvement.

Industrial-scale electric heat pumps can now efficiently provide steam using renewable electricity. Improved catalysts are reducing the temperatures of processes. Green chemistry and advanced metallurgy are creating more productive processes, higher quality products and lower process temperatures. Smart controls and monitoring systems reduce reject rates (and the energy wasted producing items that can’t be sold). Improved heat recovery and heat/cool storage increase flexibility and allow previously wasted energy to be utilised.

At the point of use of products, ‘virtual’ solutions are replacing physical products and movement. These include weight reduction and shifting to lower emission impact materials (e.g. engineered timber replacing steel and concrete, and cement made from geopolymers). Increased recycling means lower temperature, less energy-intensive processes replace production of virgin materials.

We are also seeing exciting potential to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy across all combustion activities: ARENA recently funded a study that explored these possibilities.

Across all elements in the supply chain, the multiple benefits of new solutions, ranging from cooler commercial kitchens to lower reject rates and improved staff productivity, amplify the energy benefits.

The big question is whether Australians will capture these opportunities or continue to see themselves as victims of change. Maybe the emerging focus on energy productivity and innovation can help.

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant.

This article was first published in ReNew 137.


Up front in ReNew: Renewables for all

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AS ITS name suggests, Renewables for All is an initiative to help ensure equitable access to clean energy technology for all Australians “no matter their income or living arrangements.” Set up by the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), along with Community Power Agency and Starfish Initiatives, it provides a potential policy framework and business models for governments and agencies to work from, with briefing papers now available on:

  • Solar gardens: the establishment of central solar facilities that enable apartment owners/tenants and others who aren’t able to put solar on their rooftop to have access to clean energy and bill savings.
  • Financing via rates or rents: these mechanisms could allow payback over time by low-income homeowners or renters to councils or homeowners who finance the purchase of these technologies.
  • Community-owned renewable energy projects to increase clean energy accessibility and affordability.
  • Mini-grids and embedded networks: outlining the different approaches and benefits and what policy changes are required to enable them.

For more information on this project and to download all the papers:

Read more news stories in the Up front section in ReNew 137.


The world’s first baker

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Why don’t we know about the oldest grinding stones in the world, found in Australia, or the crops cultivated by Aboriginal Australians? Bruce Pascoe is helping change that.

If you were asked who the world’s first bakers were, what would your answer be? Most would think first of ancient Egypt where it is believed bread was first baked around 17,000 BCE. And yet there is evidence to show that grindstones in Australia were used to turn seeds to flour 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists found the evidence for this at Cuddie Springs in New South Wales in the shape of an ancient grinding stone which had been used to reduce grass seeds to flour. These were the bakers of antiquity. It took Egypt 12,000 years to repeat this baking experiment. Why don’t our hearts fill with wonder and pride?


Australian sovereign nations cultivated domesticated plants, sewed clothes, engineered streams for aquacultural and agricultural purposes, and forged spiritual codes for the use of seed in trade, agricultural enterprises, marriage and ceremony.

This was and is an incredible human response to the difficulties of fostering economic, cultural and social policies. It may be unique in its longevity but also in its ability to flourish without resort to war. Australia’s reluctance to acknowledge what was lost can be witnessed in our ignorance of the birth of baking, the gold standard of economic achievement.

Why is this? Is it a malicious refusal to recognise the economic triumphs of the people from whom the land was taken or a simple culture of forgetting fostered by the bedazzlement of Australian resources and opportunities?

If we could rid ourselves of the myth of low Aboriginal achievement and nomadic habits, we might move toward a greater appreciation of our land. We might begin to wonder about the grains that explorer Thomas Mitchell saw being harvested in the 1830s, and the yam daisy monoculture he saw stretching to the horizon of his ‘Australia Felix’, the early name given to western Victoria. These crops must have been grown without pesticides and chemical fertilisers and in harmony with the climate; surely they are worthy of our investigation.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.


Community energy steps up: Decarbonising locally

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Community energy is growing fast! Jarra Hicks and Franziska Mey of Community Power Agency report on the many projects taking off and some of the remaining barriers under investigation.

Since Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy project, Hepburn Wind, started generating in mid-2011, many projects have followed to create a small, but rapidly growing movement.


Integral to that growth has been the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), a loose coalition of organisations working to promote and foster community energy projects. C4CE reports that there are now 73 groups developing community energy of all different kinds across all states and territories in Australia—from solar and battery storage projects to replace diesel in remote communities in WA, to bioenergy projects using town and agricultural waste, to partnerships with larger wind and solar developers.

In C4CE’s first assessment of community energy in Australia in 2015, groups reported on 23 operating projects, accounting for more than 9 MW of installed wind or solar capacity. Together they involve over 21,000 people and produce 50,000 MWh of electricity per year, avoiding 43,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Since then, at least eight more projects have begun operating.

What’s driving community renewables?
The number one driver is that people care about climate change. A 2014 survey found that reducing carbon emissions to address climate change was the leading motivation for most groups (89%). In fact, almost half of all projects have grown out of climate action groups in communities. In a context where the effects of climate change are being felt more and more each year and our government continues to take a weak and changeable stance on climate policy, this is likely to keep driving communities to pursue their own local source of clean energy.

Also, we are starting to see links with the anti-coal and gas movements, as communities threatened with new fossil fuel developments want to pursue safer and less disruptive means of generating energy. This is especially the case in the Northern Rivers in NSW, where there has been an explosion of activity in the past four years, alongside a successful campaign to boot out coal seam gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.


Mottainai vs methane: The case for textile recycling

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Sarah Coles explores the environmental and social benefits of diverting textiles from the waste stream, looks at industrial fabric recycling and takes inspiration from the Japanese practice of maintaining clothing for a lifetime.

In the 1965 film The Sound of Music, while the Captain is away in Vienna, Maria makes playclothes for the children out of old curtains. Perhaps taking this iconic filmic moment of upcycling as inspiration, my mother made a kaftan out of bright orange curtains in the 70s. “I was up there with the fashion,” she says. The orange kaftan was both fashionable and ethical, it seems.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians throw out approximately 570,000 tonnes of leather and textiles per year, only 12% of which is recycled. This means each year roughly 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles end up in landfill in Australia. Once textiles are in landfill they decompose and release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Dyes and other chemicals may leach into the soil, potentially contaminating groundwater.

The ecological and social burden of new clothes is well documented. The introduction to the 2013 book Sustainability in Fashion and Textiles reads: “Considering the whole textile chain, from spinning to finishing… large amounts of water and energy are used and, in general, non-biodegradable wastes are produced.” According to the report ‘The State of the Apparel Sector 2015’, it requires 2720 litres of water to produce one new white cotton T-shirt. In the textile manufacturing sector, sweatshops and child labour are prolific, and working conditions abysmal. The fashion industry promotes continual consumption; according to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, worldwide demand for textile fibres was 69.7 million tonnes in 2010. In short, the textile industry is brutally unsustainable.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.


The Pears Report: Basslink blues, abatement buy-in

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Is a second Basslink cable the best solution for Tasmania? And with the UN now trading carbon offsets, how can you become a voluntary abater? Alan Pears reviews the options.

As a commentator who argued against the construction of the Basslink cable, recent proposals for a second cable between Tasmania and the mainland have led me to review my position—but not necessarily change it.


It’s easy to argue that Tasmania needs a backup cable and that this could also provide benefits. But it’s not so simple.

The existing cable has brought both benefits and costs. On the one hand, Tasmania could profit from exporting peak power at high prices and from selling renewable electricity when there was a carbon price. It could also import cheap off-peak power from the mainland— increasing its greenhouse gas emissions.

But it costs 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), or $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour (MWh), to cover cable costs and energy losses. That’s a lot when, due to excess generation capacity, wholesale prices have been depressed to around $40/MWh in 2015–16 in Victoria, where Basslink feeds into the mainland grid. Peak prices have fallen due to renewable generation, energy efficiency, demand management and industry restructuring.

Basslink provided an excuse for Tasmanian governments to continue to ignore energy efficiency improvement. This would have cut consumer bills, made better use of existing generation capacity and provided benefits such as more comfortable homes and more productive offices. Development of new renewable energy generation in Tasmania has not exactly boomed. Tasmanians are also paying a high price for the failure of Basslink. So it’s not clear that Basslink has delivered a benefit relative to other paths. A retrospective study of what could have been done with the Basslink money could be interesting.

The economics of an additional cable are very sensitive to mainland electricity prices and the possible reintroduction of a carbon price. The ability of a second cable to provide useful backup also depends on what happens to Tasmanian electricity demand, investment in new renewable energy generation and rainfall for hydro generation as climate change plays out.

To compete with mainland renewable generation, Tasmanian generators will have to factor in the extra cost and energy losses of using the cable, so they would have to be significantly more productive than mainland generators.

Using the money saved by not building an extra cable (maybe a billion dollars or so) to instead invest in energy efficiency and new renewables, as well as revised dam management practices, could avoid the need for a backup cable and offer other benefits.

Also, instead of exporting to the mainland, it may be more profitable to divert excess electricity to running electric vehicles (or, given Tasmanian conditions, plug-in hybrids), which would offset the much higher cost per unit of energy of petrol and diesel fuel, and use a local resource to avoid import costs. And plug-in hybrids can easily switch to petrol if there is a power shortage.

I don’t have the data to make a call on whether or not another cable is a good idea. But I am inclined to be sceptical. Its cost must be compared with alternative options. And the risks of even greater exposure to mainland electricity market vagaries must be carefully weighed up.

Reframing thinking about emerging energy solutions
Recently we have seen intense discussion about the economics of storage and large solar thermal generation relative to other options. Many consider their economics are improving but are not quite there yet. My recent observations of events in Australia and other countries lead me to a different perspective.

Tasmania has been thrown into turmoil by the failure of the Basslink cable—with the low dam levels adding to the pressures and public debate about who to blame. A few years ago, Melbourne faced rolling blackouts as a major powerline to New South Wales was shut down due to a bushfire. And some Queensland power stations had their output limited by lack of cooling water during the last drought.

I’ve just come back from Japan, where the new green buildings and urban developments I saw are designed to run independently of the electricity grid for at least three days. A combination of on-site generation, storage, extreme energy efficiency and smart management systems deliver this capacity. They have realised that they need to be able to cope with natural disasters and technical failures without disruption of core services.

So the discussion about energy storage, distributed generation and smart management using a lot of data is completely different in Japan. They are simply getting on with a transformation. And, as in other fields, they are finding that lessons from experience allow them to reduce costs, identify benefits they hadn’t previously recognised and capture opportunities in new markets.

The contrast with Australia is remarkable. Our energy war, piecemeal approach and focus on narrow short-term costs are seriously undermining our future. Basically, we are being distracted by the detail while others are just shifting to a new paradigm. That’s how losers behave.

Climate targets and meeting them
The urgency for action on climate change is building. It now seems to me that responsible businesses, communities and individuals must reframe their targets towards ‘beyond zero emissions ASAP’, not just gradual reduction or even net zero emissions by 2020 or 2030. The good news is that it’s becoming cheaper (or even more profitable) and easier to cut emissions.
This means aggressively cutting our emissions both from our own emission generating activities and from the inputs to our lives and businesses.

Voluntary abaters must also buy and cancel offsets to balance the emissions we can’t avoid and to go beyond zero emissions. An exciting development here is that the United Nations has now set up a carbon offset trading website where individuals can buy and surrender internationally recognised carbon permits ( I found a range of projects with offset costs from US$0.50 to US$5 per tonne of emissions avoided. One project even met the Gold Standard (see, set up by WWF and endorsed by over 80 NGOs) for very high quality credits. You can select the ones you like best, based on the details provided.*

I road-tested the site by buying 100 tonnes of offsets from a small run-of-river hydro plant in India.

So instead of just thinking about donating to worthy international charities, you can now choose to support projects that cut emissions and also deliver worthwhile social, economic and environmental benefits for their host communities—at bargain prices.

Now is a good time to buy quality offsets: they are unlikely to ever be as cheap again. And if we don’t buy and surrender them to cut global emissions, high emitters will buy them up at low prices to offset their emissions. If enough people buy up permits to reduce the present glut, prices will increase to a point where high emitters may actually focus on reducing their emissions instead of just buying compliance with cheap permits.

There is debate about the rationale for buying international offsets. The present low prices for offsets are an outcome of a number of factors, including weak targets, over-generous allocations of free permits, poor trading scheme design, lower than expected economic growth since the GFC, declining emission intensity of economies and corruption. However, once they are
certified by an approved scheme, they are legal ‘currency’, regardless of their quality.

Some argue that governments should act to disallow existing poor quality permits. But in my view this is unlikely, despite being desirable. This is effectively retrospective removal of a right to emit and would create a precedent many fear could then be applied in other policy areas. International negotiations are messy enough and, to me, it seems unlikely that agreement would ever be reached to do this. In any case, if you buy offsets you consider to be credible and which deliver additional benefits to communities, they are unlikely to be made invalid and they deliver tangible other benefits beyond
emission reduction.

The Australian government could work with the international community to improve the integrity of international carbon certification schemes, as well as its own Emission Reduction Fund rules

Alan Pears, AM, is one of Australia’s best-regarded sustainability experts. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant.

* Another great option for offsetting emissions is through C3 run by the ATA (ReNew’s publisher). This combines offsetting emissions with renewable energy credits and donations to local community groups.

This article was first published in ReNew 136.