The climate this week – 23 Mar 2021

The climate this week – 23 Mar 2021

A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action

By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.

Featured image: The Portland aluminium smelter in Victoria is planned to be soon used in a rather unexpected role: as an effective giant battery for renewable energy. Source: wikimedia.

Floods in NSW

NSW mid-coast has been awash this week after heavy rain. One house was even seen floating down the flooded Manning River near Taree. To what extent the big wet is climate-change related, no-one can really say. However, these conditions are typical of the extreme weather events that we can expect experts predict with further global warming.

Tough times for climate-friendly Libs

Western Australian politics got turned on its head a little last week. In approaching the State election, the Liberals offered an ambitious climate policy that included closing all coal-fired power stations within four years. Perhaps WA residents weren’t quite ready for it. In fact, Labor won a landslide victory, while the Liberals got so few seats that they might have lost opposition status.

This will hardly inspire the federal Liberals to be more ambitious on climate. Nevertheless, the government really does need to strengthen its emission reduction targets for 2030 (currently 26-28% on 2005 levels) and adopt a net zero emissions target by 2050. India now looks like it will adopt the latter, though the process will require enormous effort.

Not much will to curb emissions

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison sees achievement as more important than ambition. He is telling the world that Australia has achieved a great deal by reducing emissions by 19 per cent since 2005. This is at least what Mr Morrison told US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry during a so-called “constructive” call last week. You wonder how many share the PM’s satisfaction.

The US is hosting a climate leadership summit in April on the 5th anniversary of nations signing onto the Paris Agreement. The goal will be to encourage further commitments from national governments on emissions reductions. The US is likely to announce a more ambitious target for 2030. Don’t hold your breath for Australia to follow suit.

The federal government is still wedded to a gas-led economic recovery. Meanwhile, the Climate Council just released a report citing the fact thar over the 2020-21 summer approximately 30% of energy in the National Electricity Market came from renewables. On the other hand, less than 5% came from gas power generation.

The road to net-zero in Australia

There were three encouraging reports this week.

The first was from Andrew Blakers and his team at ANU. They found that Australia could wipe out 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions – all of those from fossil fuel energy – by 2040 by doubling its wind and solar capacity.

The second report by Reputex found that NSW – the state with the heaviest reliance on coal power in the country – could reach 100% renewable energy by 2030 by replacing 10GW coal generation with 32GW of new wind, solar and storage, as well as providing new transmission lines and more renewable energy zones.

The third report was from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). It explains how renewables will deliver allow us to achieve all but “last mile” reductions in the route to net-zero greenhouse emissions. The last 10% will come from carbon capture, bioenergy and various forms of direct capture of emissions.

The rise of EVs

It was good to see the latest NRMA’s Open Road magazine strongly supporting the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). According to another report   by the end of 2021 nine of the ten top-selling brands will have an electric or hybrid vehicle for sale in Australia. Hybrids are currently dominating sales (60,000 last year in Australia) because of their lower price. However, prices of fully electric vehicles are coming down, the cheapest being MG’s ZS ($43,990). Federal and state governments should follow the example of other developed countries and introduce purchase incentives.

Aluminium smelters as big batteries

Aluminium smelters have traditionally been the “bad boys” in climate terms because they are so energy intensive. Nevertheless, the fact that the Portland aluminium smelter in Victoria was given a lifeline this week was paradoxically good news. The Federal Government announced it will pay Alcoa’s Portland smelter nearly $80 million to act like a “giant battery” in the Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) scheme. The money will be matched by the Victorian government, so they get $160m all up.

As Simon Holmes à Court wrote in 2019: “Aluminium smelters are made up of long arrays of refining “pots” and generally require steady power all year round. A “potline” can use as much power as a small city, and very occasionally, when power is in short supply, a smelter may switch a potline off briefly. By retrofitting pots with enhanced temperature regulation – an insulated, heat-exchanger jacket – whole potlines can operate indefinitely within a range 25% below to 25% above their normal operating point. Most of this demand “swing” can occur instantly, providing a highly valuable service to the grid, much like the Tesla megabattery in South Australia has been profitably providing for almost two years.” This explains the paradox!

The new head of the OECD

Australia’s former Finance Minister Matthias Cormann finally got the job as Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Given Mr Corman’s record in the last last few Federal Coalition government’s, the news was accompanied by howls of distress from climate activists. This were justified, given that Mr Cormann was central to the Abbott government’s attempts to destroy every clean energy and climate policy that the previous Labor government had introduced. However, talking about his new job, Mr Cormann says he “can’t wait” to start working. Moreover, he singled out climate change as a “key challenge”, saying he planned to help countries become carbon-neutral by 2050. He could start with Australia…

Further resources

The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.

Creating the political will for a liveable world