Government’s Energy White Paper focuses on coal, glosses over solar

The Abbott government has again shown its colours on renewables, using its Energy White Paper to describe interventions like the RET and solar feed-in-tariffs as “unintended disruptions” to competitive energy markets.

The paper was released by the Coalition government on Wednesday to outline its vision for Australia’s short and long-term energy future. To this end, the 81-page paper focused mainly on natural gas, which rated 173 mentions, and staunchly ignored some of the most progressive and potentially disruptive energy market technologies, including battery storage, which rated only six mentions.

Solar, meanwhile, was mentioned a total of 19 times, compared to 47 for coal and 23 for nuclear. Wind energy was mentioned only once. “Australia’s large quantities of traditional energy resources provide low-cost, predictable and reliable power for Australia and the world,” the paper said, ignoring the fact that grid costs have made electricity in Australia among of the most expensive in the world.

“Ongoing access to large volumes of coal and gas will also underpin our energy generation mix for some decades,” it continued – while conceding that these fuels will be “increasingly exposed to competition from renewable energy.”

But the paper doesn’t say much about how it is going to develop those resources, apart from repeating its opposition to the current renewable energy target of 41,000GWh, and its determination to make it a “20 per cent” target, meaning a cut to around its current negotiating position of 32,000GWh.

It also continues its attack on solar, describing solar feed-in-tariffs as market-distorting signals that cause “unintended disruptions” to competitive energy markets.

“Policy interventions in the market framework should not be used to force market outcomes beyond the reliable and competitively priced supply of energy,” it says.

“They should allow markets to operate efficiently for competitive outcomes, while providing consumer protection. Interventions, such as the RET and solar feed-in tariffs, can distort market signals and cause unintended disruptions to competitive energy markets.”

The white paper does, however, acknowledge that the development of cost-effective energy storage could bring about a “paradigm change” in the way Australia produces, transports and consumes energy.

The most profound effect, it says, will be in renewable energy, as storage can help overcome current limitations of intermittency in generation.

The paper also acknowledged that “the growth of disruptive technologies and advances in energy storage (including electric vehicles), combined with greater consumer engagement through demand response and self-generation, could have major implications for electricity markets.

“Networks may need to adapt from the generator-to-customer transport system of the past to acting more as trading platforms between distributed energy users and producers,” it notes.

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson