For the move away from gas to be effective it needs to be a holistic system, has to be communicated and understood by the community, has to be tested in the Canberra context and additionally requires the support of the utilities and government.
Natural gas has been a key part of our energy mix for years and even became the transition fuel as we moved away from coal-fired electricity generation. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, producing half the carbon dioxide, and it emits less toxic chemicals when burned. However, following the linking of Australian markets to international markets natural gas is now going up in price, and it is not a long-term solution to reducing greenhouse emissions given that it is methane gas (a greenhouse gas itself) which produces carbon dioxide when burned. And natural gas is a fossil fuel, not renewable energy, and supplies will be eventually exhausted. It is currently a mandatory requirement for development in Canberra (Territory Plan, Estate Development Code, p14) that gas be provided to each block. Will this always be the case? Our speakers were conflicted over whether we can we move beyond gas. This is mainly due to the nuanced implications over compromising safety, security and affordability with carbon neutrality.
Our July 2017 Environment Exchange was Beyond Gas: Moving away from the ‘transition’ fuel. Our speakers and their presentations to look at this issue were:
- Will Yeap – Branch Manager Gas Networks, ActewAGL Distribution. See the presentation.
- Jessica Stewart – Sustainability Manager, Riverview Projects. See the presentation.
- Dr Hugh Saddler – Adjunct fellow at the ANU and a member of the ANU Energy Change Institute.
- Dr Kaveh R. Khalilpour, senior research fellow with the Energy Change Institute, at the ANU. See the presentation.
Will Yeap promoted natural gas as a greener fuel. He highlighted the important role gas plays in supporting the Australia economy and Australian’s modern lifestyles. As gas currently provides energy to 6.5 million households and supports 949,000 jobs. Natural Gas provides 44% of household energy and only 13% of household green gas emissions. Additionally during winter, gas supplies more than 50% of the energy to ACT households. Will advocates that ActewAGL is a hundred percent supportive of the Zero Net Emissions by 2050 target in the ACT, yet stressed that it is important to ensure that the supply of energy is secure and affordable. While ActewAGL is fully supportive this shouldn’t compromise safety, security, affordability. Thus he supported gas playing a central role today and moving forwards, for carbon neutrality.
Jessica Stewart presented on the Ginninderry development – a 30-40 year project which is being designed as Australia’s only cross-border masterplanned community – extending across the ACT border into NSW. She stated there will be no gas at Ginninderry as it is the right place and the right time to promote the move away from gas. She advocated for a change in the narrative of gas as no longer the cheap green alternative it is claimed to be. Jessica instead argued that electricity from renewable sources is cheaper and presented Ginninderry as the case for a no gas community. This is as the Riverview Group aim to reduce ongoing energy costs to residents, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce peak electricity demand on grid.
Jessica explained the reasons why the choice for no gas, including: Environmental Factors as gas is no longer a cheap, clean, green alternative and electricity can be easily produced by renewables. Technology Advances such as energy efficient appliances, PV and Battery Storage, data collection, monitoring and management. Social Benefits for example renewable energy in a coordinated way can let you share electricity in the local community, ad river for local jobs and growth in renewable energy, reduce risk of others outside of the suburb having to share the cost of establishing the network, explore options to bulk buy appliances. Jessica explained that for the move away from gas to be effective it needs to be a holistic system, has to be communicated and understood by the community, has to be tested in the Canberra context and additionally requires the support of the utilities and government.
Dr Hugh Saddler, Adjunct fellow at the ANU and a member of the ANU Energy Change Institute, presented a clear no to gas argument due to the industry being no longer economically viable. He argued it was a lower cost and a lower emissions producing industry to move beyond gas to renewable electricity. The challenge now is to replace the infrastructure and equipment in the market with electric over the next 30 years. This includes the piping industry being changed which is a huge undertaking. However, Dr Saddler noted the important role gas has going forwards in space heating and thus that it will be a longer transition to move beyond gas in this area. In addition he recognised the need for high flame temperatures, which gas provides, and is required for industrial areas.
Dr Kaveh Rajab Khalilpour presented on why we should be kinder to natural gas and thus obviously advocated for the continued use of the fuel. He began his presentation by highlighting that these were his personal views and not those of the Energy Change Institute. While he proclaimed that the world is currently “doing great with renewbles,” intermittency remains the key challenge for renewables. As a result, if natural gas is labelled the bridge to the future, there better be something on the other side. Dr Kaveh explained that for locations with winter-peak loads hybridisation is necessary when using PV battery technology. For example, herein Canberra where there is a cold winter period, hybridisation with gas would be advantageous when there is high demand for heating. However, it appeared only solar technologies were examined for this example, rather than renewable energy as a whole. Dr Kaveh concluded that renewables are the future of energy market however promoted natural gas as having a crucial role to play as a transition fuel. As globally, we have a long way to reaching 100% renewables at a desired economics. Therefore we have to rely on natural gas, but utilise all of its energy carrier potentials. Resulting in the natural gas supply chain in fact supporting faster development of renewable energies.
Register for our next Environment Exchange.
See the complete series of Semester 2 Environment Exchanges for 2017 here.