BY HANNAH SOUTHCOTT
While countries such as Germany and Sweden take leaping strides towards renewable energy, Australia seems mired in 20th century attitudes towards energy production.
Just last month, the federal treasurer brought a lump of coal to parliament house, in an attempt to sell the notion of clean coal.
The stunt caused the desired for uproar from the Greens and the opposition, but it also highlighted the very grim reality that the left and right in politics would far rather fight each other each step of the way, then work together to ensure the future of all Australians.
With the election of Donald Trump in America, a whole new era of climate denial has dawned, and coal producers in this country must be gleefully counting their $4 billion dollars a year in tax breaks and government subsidies, as the cash flow isn’t showing any signs of drying up.
What is quite mind-boggling though, is Australia’s reluctance to invest in research and development. It’s a pretty well understood concept, that the first country to produce a new kind of technology, will be able to cash in by licensing it to the rest of the world.
Just look at Elon Musk, making great use of the favourable taxation system in California and Nevada, to develop the game-changing solar tiles and tesla house battery.
Renewable energy is happening, despite the Trumps and the Morrisons of the world, simply because it is necessary. Coal, oil and gas, while currently plentiful, are finite in quantity, that is an unassailable fact. So whether countries make the move now, in a gradual turn-over from fossil fuels to renewables, or wait for the sudden drying up of these resources, to make a much more sudden, painful and expensive move, it will happen.
Using renewable energy isn’t a shiny new concept. In fact it dates back to the first ships with sails and windmills, which harnessed wind energy. free and available wind energy seemed like a no-brainer back then, so why is it such a political football now?
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull used to be a staunch advocate for the introduction of renewable sources of energy, back in 2013.
However, since scoring the top job, Mr Turnbull has done a 180 twist, backflipped into the laps of his conservative backbench, and like them, now blames renewable energy for statewide blackouts in South Australia, which meteorologists have labelled a once in a lifetime storm.
“The opposition leaders in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland have been right in pledging that they will abandon their Labor State Government’s unrealistic renewables targets because those targets will cripple the businesses of their states,” he said.
So where is the way forward in a parliament which has never been more divided than it is today? The way forward is for pollies on both sides of the aisle, to come together to ensure that renewable energy is given the resources it needs to achieve its full potential.
Green energy needs increased funding, talented scientists and political support to go from being one of the most contentious issues in parliament, to the clean energy of the future. It needs to be viable – how can renewable energy compete when coal, oil and gas are enjoying $4 billion in subsidies and tax cuts each year – compared to $2 billion dollars in the Renewable Energy Fund over a 5 year period? It can’t.
And while the government actively makes renewables the more expensive, less attractive option, it dissuades the private sector from investing in them.
However, even with the current lack of competitiveness and the destructive political divisiveness surrounding renewables – the private sector sees the necessity to invest in the future.
Major energy company AGL announced last year, that is had partnered with the Global Infrastructure fund, to create their own investment in renewable energy, which is larger than the total investment by the government.
Origin is another major energy company, which has been investing in hydro, wind and solar power for years.
If the private sector, who have to answer to their shareholders can see the merits in developing and investing in renewable energy, than why are our politicians still blaming it for every power outage in the country?
Whether or not you believe in climate change, whether or not you believe coal is a more reliable energy source – the fact remains: we must make the switch to renewable sooner or later.
And if we can be the country that develops a cutting edge technology we can license to the rest of the world, then we can also sail into the renewable energy future with our economic futures secured.
Hannah Southcott @HanSouthcott