By Celine Lai
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) include methane (CH4) from gas and carbon dioxide (CO2) released when burning coal. GHGs transmit and radiate heat but too much of them traps heat excessively.
Coal power plants release more greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced than any other electricity source. The coal mining process releases methane, which is 87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20 year period.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies have been marketed as a way to address emissions from burning coal, by pumping CO2 underground instead of into the air. However, the technology is extremely expensive, and even if the carbon can be sequestered, the coal-fired plant will still result in destructive coal mining as well as toxic coal ash as a byproduct.
Breakthrough Energy states that the main sources of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions are: manufacturing, electricity, agriculture, transportation, and buildings.
In Australia the contributions of these 5 are:
To see how these five areas contribute to GHGs go to Breakthrough Energy’s page here.
This article will focus upon one challenge, that being electricity.
Electricity use is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States and Australia. Manufacturing is the biggest source of GHGs in the USA and Australia. Electricity generating companies traditionally combust or burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Fossil Industry firms use fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil to drive steam-producing turbines that generate electricity.
Operators in the Fossil Fuel Electricity Generation industry in Australia produce electricity using black coal, brown coal, gas and other fossil fuels. Electricity is then sold in wholesale spot markets throughout Australia. Coal plants provide baseload power, which is used to meet the bulk of ongoing demand for energy among residential, business and industrial markets. Natural gas generators provide fast-dispatch peak power to meet demand spikes, such as on hot days in summer.
But as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable generators are forecast to meet much of the increase in demand for power.
The current largest 4 companies in the fossil fuel electricity generation industry are:
- AGL Energy Limited Market
- EnergyAustralia Holdings Limited
- Origin Energy Limited Market Share
- Stanwell Corporation Limited Market
The major markets of electricity include manufacturers and households, who can turn toward power produced by renewable resources.
We can use and ask companies that produce electricity, such as those above, to turn toward renewable resources rather than continue to use fossil fuels, to avoid more heating and pollution of the Earth.
Ibisworld reports that the Fossil Fuel Electricity Generation industry exhibits a high level of capital intensity. Energy Australia reports that fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) accounted for 92% of Australia’s primary energy mix in 2020-21. Oil accounted for the largest share of Australia’s primary energy mix in 2020-21, at 36%, followed by coal (29%) and gas (27%). Renewable energy sources accounted for 8%.
It is vital that Australia gets up to speed with electrification and energy transformation. This will involve phasing out fossil fuel extraction to generate power and instead using Australia’s plentiful renewable resources.
Electrification means replacing technologies that still run on combustion (fossil fuels) with alternatives that run on renewable electricity, swapping petrol cars for electric vehicles (EVs) and gas heaters with reverse-cycle pump air conditioners. “The Big Switch”by Saul Griffiths is well worth reading.
Sydney-born inventor, Saul Griffiths, says “by electrifying everything that can be electrified, Australia could cut its emissions by 80 percent by 2035, according to credible estimates.”
The Australian Federal Government is currently seeking views on the development of the National Energy Performance Strategy. You can download and read the paper at this link here and have until 3 February 2023 to submit your response.
The Consultation paper states:
“Electrification will play a key role in the energy transition and in supporting the Australian Government’s emissions reduction objectives. According to the IEA, early action on energy efficiency including electrification and fuel switching can avoid the consumption of around 37 exajoules by 2030.”
While the paper reports that from 2020-2021, renewable generation grew to 31.4% of total generation in the National Electricity Market (NEM), or 27% Australia wide, you must keep in mind that the NEM only operates in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, thus doesn’t include Western Australia and the Northern Territory, so is not Australia-wide.
Fossil fuels have satisfied most of Australia’s electricity demand for decades but it’s time now for “electrification.”
This means not using oil and gas heating and shifting the machines, transportation, and industrial processes currently powered by fossil fuels to be powered by electricity generated by renewable means.
The Australian Government claims that it will establish a framework to lower energy demand and increase energy performance. It is currently seeking initial stakeholder views on five focus areas – governance, residential, commercial, industry, and supply chains.
The paper looks at improving energy efficiency and at electrification of new buildings and looking at what is needed to retrofit existing buildings.
It also states that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA’s) mandate has recently been expanded to support consideration of energy performance and electrification technologies.
Electrification technologies include technologies such as electric vehicle chargers, heat pumps and mining applications. ARENA should be supported and encouraged to promote and develop these technologies.
Breakthrough Energy talks about “the Green Premium.” This is the initial additional cost of choosing a clean technology over one that emits more greenhouse gases. As the cost of solar power decreases, converting to solar for household electricity becomes cheaper. In turn, governments can consider incentives for using solar power.
B.E. points out that clean solutions are initially regarded as more expensive than high-emissions ones, in part because we don’t factor the true economic and environmental costs of using fossil fuels into the price we pay for them. But with the right policies and focus, we can lower the Green Premium.
For example, policies can mandate heat pumps in industry. A heat pump is a device that can heat a building (or part of a building) by transferring energy from a cool space to a warm space. It can pump heat from one place to another, without using fossil fuels to power it, and be configured to either heat or cool.
Heat pumps can be used in industrial applications such as process cooling/heating, boiler feed water preheating, drying, pasteurization, and washing processes. The advantage of using heat pumps in these applications is that industrial plants have waste heat flows. Instead of releasing this heat into the environment, it is more economical to utilize it in some of their step processes.
The CSIRO says that about 90 percent of the WORLD’S carbon emissions comes from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity for our houses, businesses, buildings and stationary energy uses. The stationary energy sector includes all fossil fuels (gas and coal) used in electricity generation.
Natural processes such as respiration and decay, forest fires and volcanic eruptions add carbon to the air. This release should be balanced by the oceans, land and plants absorbing carbon from the air. But our ecosystems have changed with less capacity for natural “sinks” to remove carbon.
Industrialized countries represent just 20 per cent of the world’s population but account for 80 per cent of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
As a result of increasing emissions, the global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has increased by 48 per cent since pre-industrial times, rising from 277 ppm (parts per million) in 1750 to 412 ppm in 2020.
The carbon dioxide concentration today is much higher than the natural range of 172 to 300 ppm that existed for hundreds of thousands of years.
It is time to stop denying that we are adversely changing the climate through continued use of fossil fuels. There’s no need for Woodside’s proposed Scarborough gas project or for ANY new fossil fuel activity.
There are frameworks and the will and desire worldwide in all spheres of human activity (business, financial, government, household, education, civil rights, and agriculture) to phase out fossil fuels and replace them, with a just transition for fossil fuel workers, to using renewable sources.
Nobody is saying that it’s simple or instantaneous to switch from fossil fuels, but it is imperative that we stop the greenhouse effect or irreversibly heating up and polluting our planet, by any means possible.
When you consider that switching to “electrification” by phasing out fossil fuels for power will still be financially beneficial for the fossil fuel companies, against the alternative of business as usual or continuing to burn oil, gas and coal while harming the environment and especially people who don’t have a say in how energy is produced; the motivation for the denial of the impact of fossil fuels can only be construed as wanting profits now.
The trouble is that we have to look after our environment and health over the long-term. If we’re serious about a future without fires and climatic and other disruption for our children and for theirs, we will be responsible enough to phase out fossil fuels and transition to renewables.
Fossil fuels have had their “turn in the sun.” NOW is the only chance that humanity will have to phase out the old, which no longer serves us as well as we thought it did, to bring in the new for a future we can all live in.