Energy policy shake-up flagged as Government looks to dump solar, wind investment

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ABC Rural

By Tom MajorPosted Friday at 19:09

Angus Taylor speaks to media as PM Scott Morrison looks on from behind
Angus Taylor, pictured here with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has announced a shake-up to the Government’s energy policy. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Research programs into wind and solar could be dumped by the Federal Government in favour of emerging technologies in hydrogen, lithium and reducing or storing greenhouse emissions from major industries, the Energy Minister says.

Key points:

  • The Federal Government has rejected setting a renewable power target, but has signalled a change in energy policy
  • It wants private investors to get on board with a plan to explore emerging technologies that could help reduce emissions
  • Ways to reduce emissions from livestock, as well as liquid gas exports, are also in the spotlight

Angus Taylor flagged the changes during a speech at a Sydney business forum where he announced the Technology Investment Roadmap.

Mr Taylor said the plan would help reduce emissions following a devastating bushfire season during which the Government was criticised for its climate policies.

“The Technology Investment Roadmap is the cornerstone of our long-term emissions reduction strategy,” he said.

“It will provide guidance to the public and the private sector on what future energy and emissions reduction technologies the Government will prioritise.”

Mr Taylor said the Commonwealth had invested $10.4 billion into more than 670 clean technology projects, but a change of direction was needed.

“We must move our investments to the next challenges,” he said.

“Hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, lithium and advanced livestock feed supplements, to name a few.

“We must be comfortable changing horses mid-race if they don’t perform as expected.”

Documents showing electricity is the main source of greenhouse gases in Australia, with agriculture accounting for about 13pc.
Electricity is the main source of greenhouse gases in Australia, with agriculture accounting for about 13 per cent. (ABC News: Jacqueline Howard)

Bang for buck

Mr Taylor said value-for-money investments would be prioritised, with private sector uptake a critical component.

“For every dollar invested I want to see four or five dollars from the private sector following over the course of our investments.”

He said the roadmap set goals that would assess the cost for new technology and whether it would be commercially viable.

“The goal for each technology is to approach economic parity or better,” he said.

“Which means the shift to lower emissions is zero cost or low cost.”

Mr Taylor identified liquid natural gas (LNG) exports as an example of an energy product that was displacing more carbon-intensive alternatives overseas, reducing emissions.

“It’s a peculiar feature of the global carbon accounting system that countries producing a product for another customer country wear the emissions associated with that product,” he said.

“Our LNG exports have the potential to reduce global emissions by up to 163 million tonnes.”

A man in a khaki shirt and broad0brimmed hat holds out a handful of seaweed.
Seaweed-based livestock supplements are being developed with the aim of reducing methane emissions from Australia’s 28 million cattle. (Supplied: Rob Kinley)

Livestock emissions targeted

Emissions from livestock form about 70 per cent of the agriculture sector’s pollution footprint and about 7 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gases.

Townsville-based CSIRO researcher Ed Charmley said concentrations of methane were lower than carbon dioxide but more problematic.

“It has higher global warming potential — for every kilo of methane in the atmosphere, it’s 25 to 30 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide,” he said.

“Effort has been put into reducing methane and it’s having real benefits.”

The CSIRO has focused on new supplements to be fed to sheep and cattle with the aim of reducing methane-producing bacteria in the animal’s rumen.

Some have been shown to provide a 60 to 80 per cent reduction in methane, but more research is needed, according to Dr Charmley.

“We’ve been working with the asparagopsis seaweed and found large reductions in methane, ” he said.

Man with fodder crop in paddock.
Studies have previously shown that leucaena mixes in fodder can help to reduce methane emissions from sheep and beef cattle. (ABC Rural: Tom Major)

“The challenge with supplements is how you provide them to the grazing animal — more research is being done on delivery.

“They’re able to knock out the bugs in the rumen that produce the methane, by feeding these supplements that will reduce their numbers.

“The energy that’s not being wasted in methane can then be redirected to useful purposes, so potentially there’s a production benefit.”

Other strategies include increasing the amount of legume-based feeds in livestock, focusing on more species of desmanthus and leucaena to introduce to pasture mixes.

Dr Charmley said the red meat industry’s bold plan for a carbon neutral sector by 2030 would require multi-pronged approaches.

“We’ll only achieve that with carbon sequestration and mitigation,” he said.

“I think mitigation of methane production is going to be critical to that.

“We’ve got much clearer evidence now on the magnitude of the mitigation in methane — the challenge will be rolling those out in industry on a broader scale.”

Criticism from green groups

The Government has rejected setting a renewable power target, and Mr Taylor said Australia would take a long-term emissions reduction strategy to the Glasgow COP26 summit later this year.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has already committed Labor to a net zero carbon emissions target to be reached by 2050.

The Clean Energy Council slammed Mr Taylor’s speech as a “roadmap to nowhere”, saying the Government’s priority was prolonging the role of fossil fuels in the energy market.

“Carbon capture and storage is incredibly expensive,” spokesman Greg Bourne said.

“Hydrogen produced using renewables is a good idea, but the Government has hinted it will use fossil fuels to make hydrogen.”

Two men wearing high-vis workwear standing among solar panels at a renewable energy project.
The Clean Energy Council says the Government should focus investment and research on existing electricity technologies like solar and wind. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

Mr Bourne called on the Government to instead invest in existing renewable sources of power such as solar and wind energy.

“While the Government sidelines investment in clean and affordable renewable energy, this roadmap will lead to more fires, higher power bills, stranded assets and ultimately job losses,” he said.

But Mr Taylor said long-term strategies had failed and were a poor substitute for a costed 2030 emissions reduction target of 26 per cent on 2005 levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

“Over 70 per cent of the world’s GDP [nations] has not set a net zero 2050 target,” he said.

“But if you look at many of those same countries, the US, China and India, for example, they are excellent at adopting and exploiting technology advancements.

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