While PM Malcolm Turnbull has dumped a key element of his signature energy legislation as he tries to fight off a leadership challenge, the reality remains that the government is retaining the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) policy, but the legislation won’t be introduced.
However, according to UNSW energy researchers Mark Hoffman and Justine Jarvinen, the National Energy Guarantee could be improved with more ambitious emission goals, but it offers the nation's energy ministers the chance to put some reliability in the system.
“A key problem with the proposed National Energy Guarantee,” the say, “is that the modelling and assumptions have largely not been available for thorough independent review. This is a problem because it makes the scheme difficult to assess on its merits.”
“We know there is room for renewables in the NEG as a policy framework but there is an absence of comprehensive strategy to ensure renewables form the basis of achieving meaningful emissions reduction, and energy reliability and affordability.”
“As people who are involved with the teams responsible for the development of the technology found in much of the world's solar panels and who believe in the potential of this energy source, we consider this new national energy policy represents an opportunity only if it ensures a basis for pursing the most effective generation for our needs, agnostic to the specific technology,” say the researchers.
The NEG focuses on a target of reducing harmful emissions by 26 percent by 2030, which is in accordance with the Paris Accord.
“This target itself in the NEG doesn't allow renewable energy to do the necessary heavy lifting for Australia's emissions reduction. And this is precisely the opportunity our political leaders need to embrace for Australia: to provide certainty so the renewable energy sector and the ancillary developers and businesses growing up around it can continue to invest,” say the researchers.
“The real problem at the moment is that infrastructure based on conventional power stations may not cope with future demand. So we need investment in storage and multiple supply sites with the ability to shift power when and where it is needed,” they say.
“Prices and technology around solar power generation are now at the point that it is widely agreed it makes more economical sense to invest in this form of energy supply than conventional power generation. People forget that when coal power stations are built they are fully paid for by taxpayer dollars. That has not been the case for renewables and new solar will cost one-third of new coal generation in the future,” say Hoffman and Jarvinen.
“Australia's conventional power infrastructure will need to continue to be part of the energy mix for the next two to three decades as we work to diversify our supply sources, reduce prices and reduce emissions to help slow climate change,” they say.
“Australia is a world leader in renewables. Our storage technology, pumped hydro capability and the ancillary industries related to renewables, including the lithium, cobalt and nickel extraction sectors, will all benefit if we embrace an energy framework that provides more certainty than we now have for renewables,” say Hoffman and Jarvinen.
Professor Mark Hoffinan is dean of Engineering at UNSW, and Justine Jarvinen is chief operating officer at the UNSW Energy Institute. UNSW is a world leader in solar photovoltaic research and applications having developed several major breakthrough discoveries.