In Canberra on Friday, a delegation of engineers will propose a plan B for Australian energy policy in light of growing concerns that our current trajectory will harm Australia’s geopolitical security and economic growth.
This delegation of engineers is being led by clean-energy expert Adi Paterson, a South African- Australian scientist who has worked in the renewable and nuclear power sectors for decades.
“The challenge of climate change is huge,” Paterson writes in a letter delivered to the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday. “The electricity industry is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions.Therefore, all safe reliable low-carbon sources, including small modular reactors, which are the lowest-carbon, safe and reliable source of energy,should be actively considered.”
The proposed plan B, led by Paterson and co-signed by a group of technicians with expertise in electrical and nuclear engineering, is underpinned by the acknowledgment that the problem of man-made climate change is real, and scaling up clean energy is essential, but that our current policies are not up to the job.
“There are a growing number of experienced engineers and power system experts in Australia who are deeply concerned about the current activities and plans for deep penetration of intermittent renewable sources in the eastern grid,” writes Paterson. “It is demonstrably true that successive federal and state governments have been badly advised in relation to our critical national infrastructure, that (has) deep reliance on non-dispatchable wind and solar.”
This bad advice predates the current federal government. And faulty energy policy is not restricted to one side of Australian politics.
For at least two decades, bad energy policy has been a bipartisan effort.
While it is true that Australia’s Liberal and National parties took too long to accept the mainstream science on climate change, it is now true that the Labor Party is taking far too long to accept mainstream science on next-generation nuclear power.
Paterson shares the view of many clean-energy advocates all over the world, including billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, that nuclear energy is an essential component of any clean energy future.
“Nuclear has actually been safer than any other source of (power)generation,” Gates has said. “There’s a new generation (of nuclear power)that solves the economics, which has been the big, big problem. At the same time, it revolutionises the safety.”
International experience shows us a plan B is necessary.
Germany’s current energy debacle is the product of two decades of flaweddecision-making that is only now being fully realised.
Paterson argues that the three errors in Germany’s hardcore push to renewable energy consisted of a “naive” over-reliance on wind and solar,a failure to recognise the importance of a secure gas supply, and the premature closure of nuclear power plants.
Not only are Germans now being told to ration energy, they still emit 8.09 tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita compared with France’s 4.74 tonnes.This is despite tens of billions of euros being invested in the renewable energy sector every year for the past 20 years.
Whether we assess energy policy on the basis of cost, energy security or reduction in carbon emissions, Germany’s policy settings fail at every level.
“Germany’s major policy blunders are visible in Australia’s energy policy,” writes Paterson.
“Work on corrective action should begin immediately to avert the seriousand systemic defects that will be amplified without decisive action,” the engineer warns.
What should that action be? Common sense dictates the first step in a plan B would be to lift the moratorium on nuclear power in Australia. The second step would be to invest in local research and development to buildout next generation nuclear technologies.
And the third step would be to plan to implement firm, low-carbon energy sources, that are “always on” and do not inject variability and intermittency into our electricity grids.
This should not be seen as an ideological issue. Australians are frequently recognised internationally for being practical, no nonsense people.
Investing in a clean, reliable energy source that is being used all over the world and has the potential to create jobs and industry locally is what a practical, no-nonsense government would do.
Politicians who begin to advocate for nuclear energy and a plan B in Australia may also find they are pushing on open doors. While there is a perception that the public is hostile to nuclear energy, in many cases this hostility is a myth, or is easily ameliorated by reasoned arguments and appeals to data.
Most Australians are simply not aware of new-generation nuclear technologies, their economy and safety. But experts and commentators have found that when presented with information about nuclear energy,Australians show they are open-minded.
When British nuclear power advocate Zion Lights travelled to Australia recently, she told me everyone she spoke to was open to nuclear, from climate-sceptical conservatives to progressive environmentalists.
She was surprised by the warm and welcoming reception.
(The only person hostile to her visit was belligerent tweeter and renewable energy investor Simon Holmes a Court.) The great mistake of environmentalists has always been to present the solution to climate change as being restricted to wind turbines, solar panels and a “degrowth”economic agenda. But there is another path forward that combines innovation, energy abundance, geopolitical security and economic prosperity. If we really want to see a clean-energy future, plan B needs tobe on the table.
Claire Lehmann is founding editor of Quillette.