May 01, 2019At Home

Gas, a Natural Alternative

Originally published in the Daily Telegraph (April 3rd) – Words by Chris Zinn

More constructive conversations and investigations are needed about the positives of natural gas

In the bitter and dissatisfying debate about our cleaner energy future there’s plenty of hot air swirling around coal and renewables, such as solar and wind, but far less constructive conversation around natural gas.

Even a consumer who uses gas to warm their homes this winter may be surprised to hear despite those who demonise this invisible and largely silent fuel it has many expert and evidencebased supporters.

They include such authorities as Australia’s chief scientist, leading Australian academics, the International Energy Agency IEA and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They and many others see gas as part of the solution to decarbonising the economy and not, as many effective though emotion heavy and evidence-lite campaigns have claimed, part of the problem.

“Substantial GHG emissions reductions would be possible if gas was used to provide baseload and peak electrical power generation in Australia under scenarios of higher intermittent renewables energy and gas use,” the Australian Council of Learned Academies says.

But while there are legitimate arguments around the merits of coal seam gas and the consequences of our gas exports, consumer knowledge around this transparent fuel has been as invisible as it is inaudible.

The fact is natural gas as used in seven million homes each day, which supplies a quarter of our domestic energy, and has been hiding its light under a bushel.

For more than 100 years, natural gas has powered our homes and the economy. Many industries and jobs rely on natural gas not just for energy source but also a raw material to make many everyday items.

But gas is also a fuel for the future.

Yes, it comes from the ground and is classified as a fossil fuel but it has lower emissions than other alternatives. Half the carbon dioxide than coal and far fewer airborne polluting particles as well.

It can also be turned on quickly to generate base load electricity via the latest efficient gas-fired power stations when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Gas is a great complement to renewable energy and is described as a transitional fuel as we make the massive shift to a lower carbon future.

“The flexibility that natural gas brings to an energy system can also make it a good fit for the rise of variable renewables such as wind and solar PV, ” the IEA in a paper called The Environmental Case for Natural Gas, states. But in the past few days we have heard from the Greens, who want to get Australia ‘off the gas’ altogether, ignoring its potential to assist with the change.

Others have warned of a looming gas shortage for NSW, Victoria and South Australia from 2023 on days of peak winter demand if new reserves are not developed. It comes from the expert regulator in the field, the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Another expert on energy is Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel whose review of policy to create a reliable and low-emissions future called for an orderly transition.

It found gas supports renewable generation and contributes to emissions reductions as the older polluting coal-fired power stations are closed down.

And Finkel says as the economics of gas-fired generation is challenged by high gas prices and restricted supply governments can both encourage more supply while addressing community concerns about its extraction.

“No option should be ruled off the table without rigorous consideration,” he wrote late last year. “In that context, the Finkel Review pointed to a crucial role for natural gas, particularly in the next vital decade, as we scale up renewable energy.” Many homes are already using this energy mix with their gas boosted solar hot water systems, yet somehow policymakers overlook them as the most practical of partners.

Household gas prices are a big deal but one reason you are paying more is because of the blame game being played with gas so that potential supplies in Victoria and NSW, the most gas dependent of the states, have been locked up.

As a result, the cost of transporting natural gas from Queensland to the southern markets is estimated to add $2-$4 more per gigajoule in NSW and Victoria, which all adds up.

The issues around the future cost and supply of natural gas to consumers make this a legitimate issue for householders.

I believe given the one-sided and sometimes unscientific campaigns waged against gas means the interests of consumers and others who support its role in the future, even they include the gas industry, are aligned.

Much of the reason is that consumers – and therefore voters simply don’t know much about natural gas. Recent research has found that nearly 70 per cent of Australians know, at best, only “a little bit” about natural gas.

This lack of understanding is allowing the debate to be hijacked ironically, not only in the name of the consumer but potentially to their detriment.

There is no doubt that we are in a time of change as we move towards greater reliance on renewable energy, increasing demand and complex cost pressures, but it is consumers driving that change.

Australians deserve to be part of an informed debate about what fuel source might make that happen, rather than options being closed down by others’ long-reaching, kneejerk and ill-informed decisions.

Christopher Zinn is a consumer campaigner who has helped empower the public to get more value from their energy bills. He is working with Brighter, a community engagement initiative of APPEA, The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, to raise awareness about the benefits of natural gas in our everyday lives Lack of understanding about natural gas is allowing the debate to be hijacked . to the detriment of the consumer