In a media world dominated by the politically “sexy” nature of the carbon debate – along with the refugee issue and a handful of other big topics, including State of Origin football – it is hardly surprising that consideration of Australia’s national energy security is not considered particularly newsworthy.
Which is why a new Geoscience Australia report has got little coverage.
Released this week by federal Resources & Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, the report focuses on exploration for resources and is backed by a world-first project: an Australia-wide airborne geophysical survey.
No other continent has been mapped in such detail. As Ferguson says, the competitive edge work such as this gives Australia in attracting investment should not be under-estimated.
Among the outcomes of the survey is the discovery of a new basin in north Queensland with potential for petroleum, geothermal and other resources.
Australian Associated Press filed a report on this, but I can only find one newspaper story about it.
Ferguson points out that the survey is already paying off: the offshore petroleum industry has committed $600 million in exploration outlays for three years, with follow-up programs that could be worth another billion dollars.
Onshore exploration sparked by the survey is estimated to be worth $300 million.
The report entitled “Towards Future Energy Discovery” is on the Geoscience Australia website.
It should be read with Ferguson’s speech in Canberra on Monday to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia – which is on his website.
Ferguson makes an interesting over-arching point in his talk: look at where we have come from economically to understand the importance of the resources sector today.
Just over 110 years ago,agriculture accounted for 22 per cent of our GDP while mining contributed nine per cent and manufacturing provided 10 per cent. Fifty-five per cent of the 1900 GDP came from the services sector.
Fast forward to 2010 and the services sector now contributes 76 per cent of a much larger GDP, with agriculture just four per cent, mining 10 per cent and manufacturing nine per cent.
(In parenthesis,I, at least, find it interesting to place electricity demand against these numbers: agriculture accounts for just 0.8 per cent of today’s consumption, manufacturing 9.1 per cent and mining 9.4 per cent with metals using 18.3 per cent and aluminium smelting 11 per cent. The power balance is made up of 27.7 per cent residential demand and a 22.8 per cent commercial requirement. Set these ratios against generated-based emissions, which were 203 million tonnes annually last year, and you can see quickly where the Gillard tax impact falls and why the per capita emissions spin does not make a lot of sense.
(It also, in passing, raises an interesting question about the impact on national emissions of the proposed mandatory energy efficiency program that is supposed to force retailers to drive down just household consumption.)
Ferguson makes an interesting point, too, about the impact of sustained growth in resources and energy activity on employment.
Apart from the direct effect, he says, opportunities are created in support services in everything from caterers to cleaners to construction workers as well, of course, as areas like accounting.
And almost all of us are shareholders in the resources and mining sectors through the superannuation funds – and through their investments in such areas as infrastructure development.
(So when you thwack the “big polluters,” guess who else feels some of the pain eventually?)
Ferguson also said something that caught my eye about emissions abatement.
Last weekend he, the Prime Minister, the Queensland Premier and others were celebrating the first two “Solar Flagship” projects – which involve contributions of $965 million in taxpayers’ money (from State and federal governments) to achieve abatement equivalent to the emissions from 115,000 houses (a little more than double the residential sector in Darwin). This is over the 25-year life of the projects.
Ferguson mentioned in his CEDA talk that a federal investment of $52 million in the Collie south-west hub carbon capture and storage project in Western Australia will help leverage investment that will result in abatement equivalent to emissions from 178,000 households (almost four Darwins). This is annual abatement.
Think about that comparison when the solar spruikers are next rushing at you in the media (which is almost every day now) – and I hasten to add that I believe we should be helping to develop utility-scale solar power because of its long-term potential to meet some electricity demand.
It’s just that I also would rather like some actual understanding of the cost benefits of decarbonisation activity in the media and elsewhere.
Ferguson’s wind-up point to CEDA needs a great deal better understanding, too: energy security, he said, “is the end game for Australia as it is for other countries.” Continuing exploration is fundamental to maintaining energy security.
And for those who equate today’s search for energy security with more carbon emissions, it is interesting to note that the Geoscience Australia survey and report also focuses on geothermal resources. Its survey work is adding significantly to the data available to pursue “hot rock” prospects.
The agency points out that, if just one per cent of the thermal energy contained in the Australian earth’s crust at more than 150 degrees celsius above five kilometres could be harvested, we could get 26,000 times our total current energy supply – which means that we need access just 0000.4 per cent of the resource to meet all current demand.
Which yet again highlights the issue of where and why governments spend taxpayers’ dollars and why a long-term energy strategy is so important to address adequacy (the provision of sufficient energy to support economic and social activity), reliability (delivering energy with minimum disruptions) and affordability (supply at a price which does not impact adversely on the four pillars of the economy) as well as abatement.
And it highlights why more media focus on the “dull” stuff versus the “sexy” political shenanigans and shrill voices of sectoral interests would help Us Outdoors (and even those inside the Canberra Capital Hill precinct) to get a grip on what we should be doing.
(PS: The agency report has some interesting stuff to say about our uranium and thorium resources, too, including the fact that we have the world’s largest identified recoverable amounts of the latter – a possible alternative nuclear fuel for large-scale zero-emission electricity supply. Not that this would be of interest to the commentariat, the ALP, the Greens and probably half the Liberal Party.
(Why spend time on a huge potential for world-leading energy innovation like this when you can get 50 cheap headlines out of the demands of the Greens and their followers for a national solar rooftop program, which, if applied to every household in the country, has the capacity to deliver three Darwin-equivalents in annual abatement at a cost of $200 billion in capital outlays?)
Are you surprised that I feel we are collectively Alice loose in an energy Wonderland?