Sunday, January 18, 2009

Australian Clean Energy Research Proposed

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has issued "Energy Technology for Climate Change – Accelerating the Technology Response". This report proposes $6B for clean energy research by 2020. That may sound a lot, but is much less than that committed by government to support the car and finance industries in the last few months. ATSE also proposed an Energy Research Council to administer the funds for research, development and demonstration projects. This would be in addition to the Renewable Energy Fund, Energy Innovation Fund, Australian Solar Institute, National Low Emissions Coal Initiative and Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.

As the report points out, the incentives of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme's carbon trading will not be able to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), if there are not technologies to make it happen. However, I am not sure that the ATSE's solution of low-emission technologies for electricity generation on a massive scale is the answer.

Even if clean energy technology is developed, it may not be possible to deploy it by 2020. Measures to make the use of electricity more efficient and so reduce demand are also needed. In many cases these measures depend on small additions to existing technology, changes to software and changing the way people use energy. Rather than requiring new large machines, these techniques require minimal investment in hardware, but large investments in the behaviour of the users of the technology. This is a less glamorous, but important area of engineering research, which the ATSE should support.

An example of the large effects of small scale development, the Climate Change Group has suggested that the use of ICT could reduce carbon emissions by 15% by 2020.

The ATSE report was prepared by Dr John Burgess FTSE and is 55 pages long (674 kbytes of PDF). In addition to the ATSE report there is a media release "Energy research needs $6 billion", 16 January 2009. It will be interesting to see the response to the report. In the late 1990s I was on the steering committee for the ATSE "Discipline Research Strategy on Information technology''. There was a disappointing response to that report's recommendations, although it might be argued that this lead to the creation of NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Centre of Excellence. However the funding may have been diffused too far across Australia, for political reasons, to emulate the Cambridge phenomenon.
  1. Pursue relentless application of cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation strategies so that stationary energy demand growth is less than one per cent a year, over a sustained period.
  2. Form an overarching Energy Research Council to identify and fund necessary RD&D proposals so that no worthy project is denied funding. Use the Council to supervise existing funding in these areas. To encourage early investment by private companies, limit the life of the Council to 10 years.
  3. Continue to support existing Australian programs (including the Renewable Energy Fund, the Energy Innovation Fund (including the creation of an Australian Solar Institute), the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (including demonstration programs for CCS, and the Otway CO2CRC project).
  4. In terms of support for RD&D on the new technologies:
    • provide support for CCS for coal-fired electricity generation with high priority and emphasis on an accelerated program of technology demonstration at the largest possible scale in Australia;
    • provide support for geothermal technologies with high priority, and an emphasis on the demonstration of feasibility at commercial scale in Australia;
    • provide support for solar energy, aimed at increasing the efficiency and lowering the investment costs of solar PV and solar thermal technologies, preferably through participation of Australian researchers in international consortia and Australian demonstration of larger scale facilities.
    • accelerate the deployment of wind generation, where economic, using the best international technology at suitable sites in Australia. Undertake a review to establish the maximum possible future generation of wind power as a function of the number of feasible sites, expected capacity factors and the investment costs per unit of energy obtained. The review should include offshore sites;
    • undertake RD&D to support the introduction of energy storage mechanisms applicable for renewable energy technologies;
    • critically evaluate nuclear energy as a base-load technology option for the longer term; and
    • accelerate the deployment of gas-fired plants for electricity generation, based on coal-seam methane.
  5. Ensure that resources are made available for improvements in electricity transmission technologies and electricity grid infrastructure. Undertake a review of the national energy market to identify strategies that will optimise the market and maximise the capital efficiency of the suite of new technologies deployed.
  6. Allow accelerated depreciation or tax credits on new equipment aimed at greenhouse gas abatement and energy efficiency.
  7. Consider introducing a government guaranteed electricity procurement scheme at favourable prices to encourage investment in the success of new low-carbon technologies.
  8. Ensure that there is adequate provisioning for training of sufficient personnel in the skills that are necessary for the new technologies.
From: Energy Technology for Climate Change – Accelerating the Technology Response, by Dr John Burgess FTSE for the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), December 2008, Released 16 January 2009.

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