Our pollies in power seem hell-bent on going Future-to-the Back. This is even worse than the H (cough splutter) years, when we only looked back to Menzies….
Australia is in a unique position: We have resources, we have abundant natural energy (as in hot rock, solar, wind) and we are close to SE Asia.
My feeling is that we should quickly move away from fossil fuels, and use those resources for more important uses. We also could supply Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with cheap natural energy if we set up solar power stations in the north.
There is also the possibility of using natural energy to smelt our minerals, so we exported value-added raw materials instead of our current dig-it-up and send-it-overseas mentality.
The fuel tax offset for primary production was put in place many aeons ago to give Australian manufacturers access to cheap raw materials so they could manufacture goods then export some of the production. Unfortunately, with the downturn in manufacturing in Australia, there is not as much need for these cheap raw materials now, so in effect we are subsidising the mining industry by allowing them to claim a tax deduction on the fuel excise. If we lose the mining tax, the miners should lose the fuel tax subsidy. (Agriculture is different: they need the fuel subsidy to survive, and much of the produced food is consumed in Australia).
If we had a sensible government, that government would embrace alternative energy sources, and look for ways to assist Australian industry and consumers to move to a more eco-friendly consumerism. We are rapidly approaching a time where centralised power generation is uneconomical. A more decentralised approach would be far more efficient. Instead of having coal generators in Newcastle for instance, we can have smaller stations scattered around the state, so reducing the transmission losses (which can approach 30 per cent loss for long haul delivery). There are also economical storage solutions coming: molten salts for solar-thermal for instance, as well as recent developments in battery technology.
There have already been studies done by various universities that found that with existing technology Australia could be 100 per cent renewable for electricity generation with no change in lifestyle. Put this against the pie-in-the-sky ‘clean coal’ technology that has yet to be proven, and will make coal generation less efficient, so coal-fired power will be much more expensive than other natural forms of energy.
In the future (I think possibly in the next 5-10 years) we will have farming equipment that is solar powered. It makes a lot of sense. Battery technology is improving very quickly, so either there will be a possibility of recharging by changing electrolyte, or having fast-charge stations that have stored power that will charge equipment rapidly. Put this with GPS robotic control and you have agricultural machinery that operates itself, charges itself and can operate quietly (because of electric power) 24 hours a day. This is also applicable to the mining industry.
Transport is another area where improved battery technology will have a major effect. Once we have a car that can go 250kms on a charge, and recharging stations easily accessible and fast, transportation will move away from fossil-based fuel sources.
So perhaps it is time to face reality and embrace alternative fuel sources for the sake of the planet.
This is not a greenie/leftie sentiment, it is reality. The faster we embrace this reality, the more ahead of the pack we will be. If we continue the current thinking of Future-to-the-Back (a pun on that film), we could very quickly be left behind and could become another third world country, with little future for our children or grandchildren.
So please think of the opportunities. Otherwise we may go the way of the dinosaurs.
Doug Foskey, Tregeagle