Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Solar blindness

Solar blindness

There's so much writing on the wall these days there's barely room to graffiti the best line from Scott Ludlam's memorable demolition of Tony Abbott last week in the Senate:

Just as the reign of the dinosaurs was cut short to their great surprise, it may be that the Abbott government will appear as nothing more than a thin, greasy layer in the core sample of future political scientists drilling back into the early years of the 21st century.

Let us hope the PM is One Term Tony at most.

His government has, in a matter of months, removed science from governmental advisory services, stalled renewable energy targets, initiated the repeal of Australia's feeble attempt to limit its carbon emissions, 'streamlined' approvals of resource development projects by a number of methods including the silencing of objectors, and declared its intention not to 'clutter up' G20 in Brisbane in November with climate change issues. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund Australia's ecological footprint calculator:

If all countries consumed the resources that we Australians do, it would take the biocapacity of three Earths to support their lifestyle.The message is clear and urgent.

A nation with a hedonistic lifestyle and almost an obsession with gadgets, motor vehicles and dogs, Australia recently elected a government firmly wedded to the fossil fuel industry, despite this continent being the sunniest on earth. And in the self-styled Sunshine State, a like-minded government, who by their own admission are in the coal business, has called time on its 8-cent solar feed-in tariff. From now on householders will have to negotiate with energy retailers for any financial return on their excess electricity. It's difficult to imagine a much bigger deterrent to investing in solar panels. Have you ever tried to talk to your local energy company about your bill?

In an attempt to correct many mistruths about the solar energy industry, the Australian Solar Council has produced this infographic. 

The energy companies want you to use their energy so they make money. They don't want you to generate your own electricity and feed the surplus back to the grid: even if they pass the rebate cost back to you on your bill (if you are not self-sufficient, that is) and, controversially, that of your non-solar neighbour who then feels aggrieved because he's been led to believe he is subsidising you*. 

And the state government wants you to use their energy. It owns the power distribution companies who pay it a dividend, last year to the tune of $1 billion. So there's an inherent conflict of interest for the Energy Minister.

Solar rebates have not been responsible for electricity price rises. The most significant cause of increases to your bills is... no, not the carbon price either, but greater electricity infrastructure spending. Domestic solar energy producers don't use that infrastructure, thus taking pressure off it. They boost energy output in peak demand periods of the day (and year) – the most expensive – thus helping to reduce the cost of wholesale electricity, which is passed on to all users. John Grimes of the Australian Solar Council claims that solar energy's contribution actually kept the lights on during the recent Victorian heatwave.

Energy Minister Mark McArdle, who announced the demise of the feed-in tariff the other day, believes his job is to open up the energy sector to greater competition and lower 

Queenslanders' energy bills. He mentions nothing about investing in clean and cost-effective (in all senses) energy sources for the future. He (almost proudly) admitted to ABC Brisbane's Steve Austin that he'd never had solar panels, and has no use for them now because he's an empty-nester! Reduce your power bills: kick your children out.

In any political discussion – from opinion polls to Q&A – everyone says the same thing: they want cheaper electricity, the be-all and end-all of a lower cost of living. Any politician who dares venture that, in a seriously climate-changed world, we are all going to have to pay more for energy, would immediately forfeit his future.

Many of the LNP's key policies exhibit an enormous ostrich (emu?) factor. Changing from fossil-fuel-based energy generation to renewable sources – principally solar and wind because nobody mentions nuclear power here – seems to be not only beyond their ken but also would put them under enormous pressure from the mineral resources industry.

The tide is turning, however. The Australian Energy Market Operator has reassessed its forecast for energy demand, and expects electricity consumption figures for 2013-14 financial year to be down on last year's, making four consecutive years of demand falls. Which makes calls for a brand-new coal-fired power station in Northern Queensland even more alarming. Going down that road would mean overcapacity as well as increased tax bills for Queenslanders, many of whom probably quite like the idea of the relative independence solar panels offer, if only they were better able to afford the installation. And that's what Minister McArdle should be working on.

* Modelling done in relation to the Renewable Energy Target shows that the benefit of small-scale solar next year will outweigh the cost of solar subsidies (source: John Grimes, CE of the Australian Solar Council)
This post was last edited on 11 March 2014

Bimblebox and the price of coal

Bimblebox and the price of coal

A good day for Aussie politics (Ludlam demolishes Abbott)

A good day for Aussie politics (Ludlam demolishes Abbott)