Ross Gittins at the SMH is having a prolific week of high quality energy and global warming articles. His latest - Australia positioned to be renewable energy superpower.
It had been assumed that gas-fired power would bridge the gap because it was cheap, far less emissions-intensive than coal, and able to be turned on and off quickly and easily to counter the intermittency of renewables. Now, however, without successive federal governments quite realising what they'd done, gas has been largely priced out of the electricity market, with various not-very-old gas-fired power stations close to being stranded assets.
What now? We thank our lucky stars the cost of energy storage is coming down and we get serious about storage - both local and at grid level - using batteries and such things as "pumped hydro storage" (when electricity production exceeds immediate needs, you use it to pump water up to a dam then, when production is inadequate, you let the water flow down through a hydro turbine to a lower dam). In other words, the solution is to get innovative and agile. Who was it who said that?
Turnbull's party seem to be pro coal and anti renewables partly because they know we have a comparative advantage in coal. We can produce it cheaply and we've still got loads in the ground. The rest of the world is turning away from coal and the environmental damage it does, but let's keep opening big new mines and pumping it out, even though this pushes the prices our existing producers get even lower. If the banks are reluctant to finance new coal mines at this late stage, prop them up with government subsidies. Join the international moratorium on new mines? That would be unAustralian.
But get this: Garnaut says we also have a comparative advantage in the new world of renewables. "Nowhere in the developed world are solar and wind resources together so abundant as in the west-facing coasts and peninsulas of southern Australia. South Australian resources are particularly rich... Play our cards right, and Australia's exceptionally rich endowment per person in renewable energy resources makes us a low-cost location for energy supply in a low-carbon world economy. That would make us the economically rational location within the developed world of a high proportion of energy-intensive processing and manufacturing activity. Play our cards right, and Australia is a superpower of the low-carbon world economy."