Features Australia

Bizarre fantasies of reaching net zero

Blackouts and mineral shortages loom

12 June 2021

9:00 AM

12 June 2021

9:00 AM

Not content with forcing coal plants to close and blocking efforts to expand gas supplies to help maintain reliable power, Australia’s vocal green lobby is trying again to force a hard net zero emissions target on the federal government. But the bill now wending its way through various parliamentary committees which would confer considerable power on bureaucrats to wreck the economy in the name of the environment, is just one example of world-wide net zero madness.

Governments everywhere are being subjected to increasingly bizarre demands, or imposing insane goals on voters, while ignoring increasing evidence that the resulting skyrocking demands for rare earths and other minerals will make this green enthusiasm very costly to implement.

Other inconvenient problems, such as damage that will have to be done to the environment to mine all the material required; that mining capacity cannot be expanded sufficiently in the time allowed; and that much of the technology required to reduce emissions in the steel-smelting and cement-making industries are still far from market-ready are similarly ignored.

Australia’s contribution to this madness is a bill proposed by independent federal MP Zali Steggall, which has drawn support from high tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, as well as top Business Council of Australia leaders Tim Reed and Jennifer Westacott, among others.

However, as noted previously by the Independent (Net Zero Sense, 14 November, 2020), these business leaders can virtue-signal over this legislation, safe in the knowledge that it will never be passed by the Morrison government.

In this the Morrison Liberal National Coalition has shown considerably more sense than the UK and its Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has not only declared a national goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but is trying to achieve it.

Apart from encouraging the construction of offshore wind farms, the Johnson government says it will ban the sale of new petrol cars from 2030 and hybrids by 2035 and is consulting over legislation that will require householders selling their homes to replace the standard gas boiler with a less efficient heat pump. This is expected to cost more than £10,000 ($A18,360), with the UK media reporting that installation may cost more than three times that, depending on what has to be done to the wiring and pipes of old homes.

Gordon Hughes, a professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, has weighed into the net zero debate with an analysis of offshore wind farm performance using the figures the farms are required to report rather than their public statements, to find that further investment in the sector will result in major increases in costs, not decreases as the government expects. But like much else in the net zero debate, this analysis, and Professor Hughes’ forecast that the UK government will be forced into a series of bailouts of these farms, has been brushed aside.

Over on the European mainland, the European Union has legislated to cut its collective emissions by 55 per cent from a 1990 benchmark. This is a major advance on a previous goal of a 40 per cent cut but was still slammed by activists as ‘disappointing’.

In April, the Biden administration in the US announced that it would aim to slash emissions by half from a 2005 benchmark, as part its push towards net zero by 2050, and has proposed an infrastructure package with an eye-watering $US2 trillion worth of spending. As with most of the other proposals by the American president the legislation remains at the mercy of the US congress and senate and its wafer-thin Democratic majority.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared that his country will aim for net zero emissions by 2060, but to date China has done little more than binge-build coal-fired power stations. India, the third of the top three emitters (the other two are the US and China), has previously shied away from any net zero declarations and, now in the grip of the Covid pandemic, has other matters on its mind.

In May, the International Energy Agency’s added its two cents worth with the report, Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, intended to show that the goal could be achieved, albeit only if all economies followed a ‘narrow but still achievable’ path. However, the requirements for the narrow path outlined in the report require commitment and dedication to the net zero goal which have been almost entirely lacking to date.

For a start, annual investment in the energy sector has to more than double to $US5 trillion with all the money going to renewable energy projects. All investment in horrid, fossil fuel projects is to cease. Oh yes, and consumers have to change their habits. The report says this will involve ‘a shift to cycling, walking, ridesharing or taking buses for trips in cities that would otherwise be made by car, as well as replacing regional air travel by high-speed rail in regions where this is feasible’.

The key industries of steel and cement making are given a page in the report – why overdo it? – with the IEA admitting that technologies which drastically cut emissions in those industries but still in demonstration phase have to reach the market within the next decade for the net zero target to be achieved.

Another report produced by the IEA in May, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, is even less reassuring as it points out that wind farms, photovoltaic panels and batteries require a great deal more of materials that previously filled production niches, such as nickel, rare earths, manganese and chromium. Depending on the material, the report notes, the required mines may take up to two decades to develop.

The Australian government has at least had the sense to ignore activist reassurances that more conventional fossil plants are not needed by deciding to build a $600 million, 660 megawatt gas plant in the Upper Hunter valley.

The initial spark for the gas plant decision was an announcement in March by Energy Australia, owner of the Yallourn 1,480 MW brown coal plant in Victoria, that the plant will now close in 2028, or in just seven years time, rather than the previously expected 2032. The disappearance of what amounts to 20 per cent of the state’s power supply follows the closure of Hazelwood, with a rated capacity of 1,600 MW in 2017.

With so much capacity vanishing from the grid everyone can agree that wind farms, solar plants, PV panels on house roofs plus a battery here and there are just not going to cut it, and never mind all the talk about net zero emissions.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Mark Lawson can be contacted at markslawson@optusnet.com.au or at www.clearvadersname.com

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