The Laughing Gas Led Recovery We Don't Have To Have
Source: Wellcome Images; License: CC BY 4.0
by Ken Jones
Laughing gas (nitrous oxide) is a potent greenhouse gas and can be addictive when misused, causing great pain and expense. In these things it bears much semblance to the unnatural gas sucked from the fractured earth to feed addiction to profit and profligate energy use. But here is a cautionary tale to better illustrate these things.
It seems that the Coalition may have kicked the coal habit.
It's not that long ago that they were roaring along on the coal train. Way out of control, giggling like kids while they passed around a huge lump of Bowen Basin Black Rock with the whole world watching. And the mood swings! One mention of wind or solar and Barnaby's nostrils would flare, his eyes would go wide and, before long, the spittle would start flying. Scotty's lips would purse and the fire and brimstone would rain down. That's about the time they got young Angus hooked with their crazy dreams about saving the starving masses in India if only they could get enough coal to them.
Those days are gone. They don't use the c word much any more. Not since they went into rehab back in October 2019.
As is often the way of these things, they have replaced one addiction with another, seemingly less harmful. The Coalition has been supported in this painful transition by regular large doses of their new poison of choice, unnatural gas, the occasional shot of carbon capture and storage and the odd hit of micro nuclear, all administered by their carefully chosen rehab org, the enigmatic King Review.
This handpicked who's who of Australian and global fossil fuel and mining barons have apparently pulled off the impossible by ending such a relentless fixation.
But what about their long suffering partner, the Australian people? They've been going to Coalanon for years. Sneaking a few panels on the roof while the Coalition was out partying with Adani. Hiding the odd battery in the garage. Taking the risk of all hell breaking loose just so the kids can have a few electrons to keep warm, have a cooked dinner and enough light to do their homework by. Were they even asked if they thought it was a good idea? Were other, less dangerous alternatives considered?
Rather than fracking all over the countryside, littering the place with shipping containers full of nuclear power plant, spending a fortune chasing the economic mirage of carbon capture and paying billions to big polluters because they pollute, what else might be done?
What about a rich mix of wind farms, solar farms and Distributed Energy Resources (the funky new name for things like rooftop solar and batteries in domestic, commercial and industrial sites)?
Sure it's addictive, but it's a natural high! It doesn’t make you sick. It doesn't send you broke. It doesn't set a bad example for the kids. Best of all, it won't destroy the planet!
Renewable energy is already cheaper than coal or gas, let alone nuclear. And, supported by big batteries to provide resilience and manage the grid, it is the way of the future.
Look at South Australia. They will be 100% renewable by 2030. The key is the world's biggest lithium-ion battery installed by Tesla in late 2017. It took 63 days to build at a cost of $90 million. The Tesla Big Battery, officially known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve and once described by Scotty as "about as useful as the Big Banana", produced a profit of $22 million in its first year of operation, saving South Australian taxpayers $50 million at the same time. It paid for itself in a little over two years and is being expanded by 50% to increase the range of emergency power supply and grid stabilisation services it provides, stabilise the spot price of power and allow South Australia to export renewable energy to the eastern states. The Liberal State Government thinks that's pretty useful.
The Australian Energy Market Operator, which runs the electricity and gas systems and markets across Australia, expects the market share of gas in South Australia to be just 13 per cent within a few years, and little more than 5 per cent by 2027/28.
Even when you ignore mankind's existential threat in climate change, even when you ignore all the other pollutant threats to health and wellbeing, even when you ignore the destruction of our dwindling natural environment, it makes irrefutable sense to choose renewable sources of energy over fossil fuels or nuclear on purely and simply economic grounds. It's cheaper and it provides more jobs.