The latest report from the Grattan Institute is unequivocal – ‘Australia needs to get off gas if it is to have any hope of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.’
The advantages of doing so – and quickly – are plain to see. Reducing our domestic use of fossil fuels and thereby our carbon emissions will not only make our homes and public spaces less polluted but also help in the global effort to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
But the advantages to hard-working, financially squeezed Australians and Australian businesses are worthy of standing on their own merits. The report – Getting off gas: why, how, and who should pay? – shows that all-electric homes (those which have their hot water, heating, cooking and other appliances powered from the grid) are cheaper to run than those which are reliant on a gas supply.
Not only that, with the help of incentives from governments, replacing gas appliances with electric ones could be more affordable than a like-for-like swap.
As the report notes, ‘the writing is on the wall for gas in Australia’. All Australian governments have committed to meeting net-zero emissions goals and forecasts for the use of gas consumption are continually being revised downwards. Contrary to what those involved in the production of gas might like the Australian public to think, there is simply no case for new gas producing infrastructure or measures which artificially extend the life of existing gas plants that supply our homes and businesses.
Report urges against ‘less efficient’ distractions
The Grattan Institute report considers both hydrogen and biomethane as potential alternatives to electrification, but concludes that their use would be an unnecessary distraction in the vast majority of domestic energy applications.
This is a timely intervention. Fossil fuel giants like Woodside have been sniffing around hydrogen for a while, promising ‘greener’, ‘cleaner’ fuel alternatives for the domestic market. Putting aside that the majority of these proposals are concerned with hydrogen produced with fossil fuels and are actually focussed on making ammonia for export, hydrogen is ‘unlikely to be competitive’ against electrification, the report finds.
In the case of biomethane, the Grattan Institute concludes that there simply isn’t enough commercially viable supply in Australia for it to fill roles that had previously been filled by gas.
Governments must move at pace
‘Governments should adopt three strategies to ensure effective electrification’ – says the Gratton Institute’s Tony Wood in the Australian Financial Review .
The first is crucial in encapsulating the urgency involved in eliminating gas – that governments set ‘clear end-dates for gas use’ – and – ban new gas connections. Such a deadline would serve as a ‘hurry up’ to those involved in the supply and transmission of our domestic energy, who will need to oversee significant upgrades to our interconnected web of electricity infrastructure to support the switch to electrification.
This very process is still in its infancy here in WA, with the most recent state budget putting aside $3 billion to begin planning for upgrades to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) power grid, so that it can support large scale electrification and new renewable energy sources.
While this plan is of course welcome, the fact that it is still a plan is a sign of how far our own state government still has to go against an inevitable switch to electrification.
The ACT has already passed a new law to ban new gas network connections – the first Australian state or territory to do so – with a target that Canberra be an ‘all-electric city, using renewable energy’ by 2045.
As CCWA Programs Director Maggie Wood said only last week, the WA state government has so far failed to realise the large-scale green renewable energy sources needed and the process of doing so has been ‘far too slow’.
The second step, according to the Grattan Institute, is for governments to lead the way in the process of electrifying homes directly within their influence. That includes social, community and Indigenous housing. This is a value-added proposition, making those homes cheaper to run, more efficient, better for the health of their tenants, and – as a consequence – more comfortable to live in.
By taking the lead on electrification, governments could also stimulate the transition and the creation of a new jobs in that area which would – in turn – help with the speed of a wider push towards electrification.
The third step is to incentivise households to make the switch to electric appliances and ditch their gas supply, either when replacing broken gas appliances or because there is a financial incentive to do so.
‘Governments should launch long campaigns to encourage people to switch their homes from gas to all-electric’, says Tony Wood. This is already happening in the ACT where the territory government has begun sending information to residents about phasing out gas in homes a full 22 years before its own deadline.
The report suggests federal government funds being made available to states which have set a gas-phase out date and a ban on new connections. It also recommends loans and subsidies for key electrical appliances to help make electrification more immediately affordable, particularly to middle and low-income families.
Gas export industry the elephant in the room
Australia’s gas emissions aren’t simply confined to activities associated with domestic energy supply. Here in WA, tackling the emissions from the gas export industry (led by companies like Woodside, Santos, Chevron and others) is the most effective way to drive down state-level emissions, given the sheer amount of pollution that sector produces.
Of course, getting of gas for domestic supply and tackling the enormous emissions produced by WA’s gas export industry will require different approaches and the Gratton Institute report does not cover this other issue.
However, if anything, the case for preventing any new gas export facilities – or extending the life of existing facilities – is even more clear cut, given that those activities deliver little-to-no benefit to Australians or the Australian energy supply.
The cost of doing nothing
As the Grattan Institute notes, ‘keeping gas options open isn’t cost free’.
“It means foregoing the opportunity to make a dent in our national emissions, and emissions may even grow in the meantime if more people start using gas”, the report reads.
“…households in particular can save money by upgrading from gas to electricity. Keeping options open will mean foregoing these savings”, it continues.
This is not to say that the solution is a simple one. As the report acknowledges, ‘there are many barriers, and all must be addressed’, but to do otherwise is simply not an option.
“Electrification of gas lies on the pathway to a cleaner, cheaper and healthier environment”, says Tony Wood.
“It is a rocky but necessary path, and governments must take the lead.”