Monday, 30 August 2010

Towards a Catholic Green agenda....solar power?



In my view the train has left the station in terms of the global warming denialist agenda, and Catholics need to focus on agitating for family-friendly carbon policies.  It's a view supported by a story today about an exit poll showing that a third of those who voted green in key marginal seats would have voted for Labor had an emissions trading scheme gone ahead.

So what can we do?  Well one option is to support and expand schemes that promote use of feedback into the grid electricity generation schemes based on solar panels.  And there was an intriguing story on this over the weekend on the unexpectedly successful NSW scheme.

Energy efficiency vs alternative power generation schemes

Hardline Greens driving an anti-population agenda tend to be committed more in theory than in practice to alternative power generation - windpower after all interferes with those parrots, and solar power potentially allows households to continue consuming at current rates rather than being forced to reduce consumption (and family size).

And those with a vested interest in the industry seem more preoccupied with promoting Australian R&D and manufacture of solar panels (a whole other issue) than actual carbon reduction. Indeed, prices of solar panels apparently fell 25% in 2008 - due to cheap chinese manufacture.  So what is more important - Australian industry development, or continuing the push to reduce costs and make solar energy more viable and less costly to the rest of the economy?

That's probably why only two of Australia's States and Territories (NSW and ACT) have even vaguely reasonably designed feed-in to the grid schemes (and I'm not suggesting that either of them is perfect!), and even those schemes are strictly limited to households.

Yet solar electricity generation from your rooftop has enormous potential in Australia - though it is still very costly at the moment, it has advantages: global warming aside, a lot of power is typically lost in the transmission process, and in the longer term there is potential to reduce the need for all those power lines and sub-stations.

Australia lags behind...

A study by Access Economics a couple of years back showed that Australia is lagging way behind several other countries in supporting solar electricity generation.  The unexpectedly good result from the NSW scheme is a step in the right direction.  It will be unfortunate though if the high take up is used as an excuse to cut the price.

Instead we should be lobbying for the other States to switch their payback systems to pay for gross rather than net generation, and set a price for feed-in that encourages homeowners and others to go down this route.

Economics of renewable energy

Renewables are not the complete answer of course - direct household electicity use accounts for only about 17% of energy use in Australia (and 25% of home electicity use is for water heating).

And it is true of course that at the moment solar and other forms of renewable energy remain expensive, and subsidies for them have to be paid for elsewhere, potentially costing jobs. 

But it is also true all new technologies go through a typical cost curve: very high costs initially, which reduce rapidly with scale and competition.  Giving this industry a push along has a potentially high payoff environmentally.

And you have to start somewhere.

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