Is onshore gas mining a wise choice at this time?
Position statement- Onshore gas development in the state of Victoria
Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) is opposed to any progress made on expanding Victorian natural gas supply- onshore and offshore. Burning fossil fuels of any type increases greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change which threatens the health and lives of all of the world’s communities and indeed, the future of civilisation. There are better, cheaper and healthier alternatives to pursuing more gas in our system.
Our current use of natural gas
Victoria’s gas demand is currently around 200 petajoules per annum.[i] This is roughly the equivalent to the output of five Yallourn W stations, indicating our massive reliance on gas as an energy source. Victoria has the largest penetration of residential gas connections in the country. The following chart shows the Victorian gas demand for gas powered generation, residential and small business, and industrial use on August 9th 2019.[ii]
Residential and small business use is largely for space and water heating and makes up most of the daily winter demand. Summer demand is roughly one fifth of winter demand.
Our gas resources are finite
The current push for increasing exploration and mining of gas is due to declining output from the major Victorian gas fields in Bass Strait.[iii] In our opinion, it does not make sense to respond to this declining output by searching for more sources of gas thus kicking the can down the road in the effort to reverse climate change. Instead, we should respond intelligently, quickly and strongly, using proven gas replacement technologies. Just as we did not stop using stone tools for lack of stones but for better alternatives, our move to clean energy sources represents a logical step to something better.
What we should do
The lowest hanging fruit in our use of energy is in efficiency improvements. Using gas to generate heat is inherently inefficient because there is unavoidable waste heat and therefore one unit of gas energy input results in less than one unit of heat output. In contrast, heat pump technology takes one unit of electrical energy and outputs up to seven units of heat. That is possible because the heat pump does not generate the heat but simply gathers it from the surroundings (usually air) and pumps it to where it is needed.
Each of the major segments of the gas market have proven replacement technologies.
1. Gas powered generation.
There is already a growing and unstoppable wave of large scale renewable electricity generation development across the country, including Victoria. The speed of the regulatory and market operating environment is a significant cause of delay in the transition.[iv] The Victorian government has already indicated its intention to break free of some of the national policy mess to drive local solutions to these issues. We believe our state government should do more to ensure rapid uptake of renewable generation and storage solutions that will replace the need for gas powered generation.
2. Residential and small business use.
Solar thermal and heat pump technology is available now to replace the use of gas for space and water heating. In Victoria, the total need for electrical energy for hot water systems is lower for heat pumps than solar thermal. In climate zones further north, the reverse is true, with solar thermal systems becoming favourable. Space heating/ cooling heat pumps or reverse cycle air conditioners (RCAC) as they are commonly known here, have already reached levels of efficiency that mean transition to these makes good financial (as well as climate action) sense. Combining these with behind the meter solar PV systems means householders and small business operators can achieve a large degree of energy self-sufficiency with some protection from rising unit energy costs.
3. Industrial use.
Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a document outlining renewable energy based alternatives to gas in industrial processes.[v] Further to this, recognition of Australia’s potential to produce 700% of our energy needs through renewable hydrogen is gaining ground. Transporting and exporting hydrogen in the form of ammonia is technically feasible.
All the above solutions can source their energy through renewable electricity generation (solar, wind and storage). The transition to electric vehicles provides yet another opportunity for our society to transition away from gas. Vehicle to grid (V2G) is coming with Nissan and now Tesla announcing their support. This means anyone with a solar PV system and an electric car will have the ability to cover all their energy needs and to support the grid at times of high demand, potentially generating more income.
There is a clear path that our governments should be following- provide the policy and regulatory frameworks that promote rapid development of more large scale wind and solar and pumped hydro or battery storage solutions and incentivise householders and businesses to replace gas appliances with efficient electrical alternatives that exist now. Ensuring standards, regulations and pricing of electricity are ready and optimised for V2G, for the benefit of all, taking foremost into account the benefits to climate change mitigation, should be another key focus of government.
Strong support for the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) who have produced an Integrated Services Plan that provides a roadmap for the whole of the National Electricity Market to transition to a renewables dominated electricity grid is needed to ensure the necessary changes to end user scale technology like smart meters and inverters, to large scale transmission infrastructure, are made in a timely fashion (quickly).[vi]
In summary, the human and financial resources currently being expended on the community’s behalf in progressing the development of more gas infrastructure and use, are contrary to the wider interests of all of us and should be redirected to solutions that will improve our prospects of reducing climate change, improving health and comfort in homes and developing Australia as the renewable energy superpower that we can and should be.
The moratorium on exploration and mining of onshore gas should be extended. Any further review should be conducted by a committee with no vested interests in the outcome and include a mix of scientific, particularly environmental, experts and community members.