The fossil fuel sector isn't hiding from a carbon tax. In fact, it's planning a revival.
In July 2011, when plans to introduce the carbon price were announced, Clean Energy Council director of strategy Kane Thornton congratulated the government
and said the new policy would "turbo-charge the clean energy sector".
Now, a month before the official implementation of the carbon tax, the City of Sydney’s announcement to install Australia’s first low-carbon energy network seems to provide evidence for this "turbo charge".
In collaboration with Origin Energy the city has created a plan
that supplies 70% of the local government area with electricity until 2030. The tri-generation technology has a high energy conversion efficiency
, providing power, heating and cooling to buildings at the same time.
"Tri-generation is a compelling, alternative energy solution that helps lower carbon emissions and network demand, while increasing energy efficiency and power security," said Jim Galvin, head of retail markets for Origin Energy.
But although the technology can operate on bio-fuel, fossil gas is the main energy source at present, leaving the dream of an entirely renewable system to the future.
The anticipated changing of the guard from fossil to renewable energy sources is undermined by operators of fossil energy sources finding ways to reduce CO2 emissions and increasing the efficiency factor of their plants.
The state government recently allowed the size of a planned brown-coal and gas-fired power station in Victoria's Latrobe Valley to double. This station is also based on new coal gasification technology
, which promises to produce cheaper, cleaner power.
Green energy initiatives claim they are also at a disadvantage because of the Australian mineral industry’s attacks on the renewable energy sector.
In its submission to the government’s energy white paper
, the Australian Coal Association criticises the two most discussed renewable energy sources, solar and wind power, for their intermittency, scale and public acceptance issues. For the CEO of Brown Coal Innovation Australia, Dr Phil Gurney, renewable energy is not always as emission free as its advocates try to make the public believe.
"Solar panels, for example, need an operation time from 17 to 20 years to become carbon-neutral and financially profitable," Gurney told Crikey
. "Making existing fossil-fuelled power plants more efficient would be by far the cheaper option. The main intention behind the carbon tax is still a reduction of the carbon emission and not necessarily an increase of renewable energy."
Virginia Streit, from Energy Matters, a company that has installed more solar power systems than anyone else in the country, is worried about the reinvigorated fossil energy sector. "We don’t need these polluters in Australia any more and fight them wherever we can, like in the current case of the planned coal-fired power station in Victoria," Streit told Crikey
She said most lines of argument against renewable sources were based on prejudices and not applicable any more: "The simple truth is that, when looking at the whole carbon life cycle, the footprint of renewable energy sources is tiny compared to the one of coal and gas."
A 2010 study by the Cameco Corporation
comes to the same assessment. Representing the uranium industry, the organisation approached the problem of inconsistent results by calculating averages on the basis of 21 different studies, undertaken by governments, universities and the energy sector from 2000 to 2009.
It found that brown and black coal produce 1069 and 888 tonnes CO2 emissions per gigawatt hour, and that solar photovoltaic (with only 85 tonnes) was the main contributor among the renewable energy sources.
Lifecycle emission intensity of electricity generation methods, according to 2010 Cameco Corporation study (infographic: Philipp Rosskopf)