1. Renewable Energy
1.1. Policy: Zero carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2030.
1.2. Discussion: Australia’s current Renewable Energy Target (RET) is 23.5% by 2020. Rather than imposing targets for renewable energy, the Science Party seeks to address the problem of carbon emissions directly, by creating a zero emissions target. Research from the Institute for Sustainable Futures suggests that this is feasible for all power including transport by 2050, and for stationary power by 2030.
The Science Party also supports a carbon pricing mechanism.
To reduce carbon emissions from transportation, electric vehicles should be encouraged for private use and phased in for public transport.
The Science Party believes that renewables and harnessing nuclear fusion (the highly-efficient, minimal-waste form of energy generation that occurs in stars including our Sun) represent our long-term energy future. For discussion of nuclear fusion, see section 6 of this policy. It could be suggested that commercial nuclear fusion should not occupy this space as it is in its early development. However, if this attitude was taken to solar panels at the end of the last century, we would not currently be regularly breaking records with regards to solar cell efficiency. The Science Party is committed to funding scientific research to bring about advances that improve the human condition, and safe energy sources are a priority at this point in time.
1.3. Policy: Support both uptake and development of renewable energy technology to increase its viability.
1.4. Discussion: Renewable energy (such as solar panels and wind turbines) should be used to reduce the environmental impact of energy extraction. The Science Party supports continued research into renewable energy, and energy storage to maximise the utility of renewables, through doubling of research funding. We also support a review into the most effective ways to encourage small-scale renewables uptake.
Dedicated biofuel crops should not be pursued as a strategy for energy production because of the poor energy conversion value of such fuels. This does not inexclude creation of biofuels through biowaste treatment (such as waste oils and byproducts of crop harvests). When determining if biofuels are genuine ‘waste fuels’, attention should be paid to the profit margins of items like sugar to determine if sugar cane is grown for sugar with a byproduct of ethanol, or if sugarcane is grown for ethanol with a byproduct of sugar for regulatory reasons. A review into the current mandating of biofuels in petrol, their value in reducing greenhouse gases and energy efficiency compared to alternatives should be conducted.
1.5. Policy: End all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
1.6. Discussion: An independent report has identified $11.5 billion of state government subsidies to the coal, gas and petroleum industries while noting that the full extent of subsidies to this sector is likely unknown.
There are arguments for and against subsidising various industries. Fossil fuels, however, have no long-term prospects as, by definition, they are used faster than they are created; and there is strong evidence that the carbon dioxide released from burning these fuels is affecting the earth’s climate. The particulate matter from burning coal also has harmful health effects.
Australia must move towards a fossil fuel-free economy as a matter of urgency. Redirecting funds from fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy research would serve us better environmentally and economically.
2. Modernising our Grids
2.1. Policy: Mandatory installation of ‘smart meters’ in all homes and business in Australia. Meters are to be paid for by electricity companies, to be recouped at a fair rate over a number of years following installation.
2.2. Discussion: Smart meters allow for multiple benefits for both consumers and providers of energy. Smart meters allow consumers to be much more conscious of their energy usage habits by monitoring energy usage in fine detail. They can therefore reduce consumption where it is wasteful or doesn't add greatly to their quality of life. Smart meters allow time of day metering, where people are charged more when there is more strain on the grid, and less for when there is less strain on the grid.
The typical electricity bill in NSW approximately doubled between 2007 and 2014. The majority of this increase was due to network costs (‘poles and wires’); that is, the need to build extra infrastructure to cope with increases in peak demand. Smart meters can charge consumers less for electricity during off-peak times; if this successfully encourages consumers to use less energy during peak times, peak demand will be lowered, reducing the need to expand electricity networks.
It should be noted that, given our current electricity networks, solar panel uptake will have little effect on reducing peak demand, as peak demand is typically due to the use of air conditioners on hot days (by businesses in the afternoon, and in homes when many people get home from work, by which time solar panels are not at maximum output). See section 3 for discussion of how expanding the network could reduce the pressure of peak demand and allow renewable technologies to provide more of our energy needs.
Smart meters also make it easier for providers of renewable energy to price their products as the time of day value of the electricity that is provided can be priced more easily and hence put value to their product which is often sensitive to the time of day, such as solar and wind.
Current plans for NSW are for an opt-in system, where consumers pay for the new meters. The Science Party believes that the benefit to both consumers (who are often not the property owners, and hence unable to install such devices) and providers are too great to rely on such a slow method of adoption. The Science Party proposes that the meters are to be paid for by electricity companies, to be recouped at a fair rate over a number of years following installation. Smart meters have already been widely implemented in Victoria according to a similar system.
3. East-west electricity network connection
3.1. Policy: Connect the West Australian electricity grid with the National Electricity Market in the eastern states, using an HVDC connection within 20 years. The connection is to be paid for by the Australian government, with a usage tariff for the transfer of electricity from one grid to the other to be paid by electricity retailers.
3.2. Discussion: Connecting the eastern and western electricity grids has the potential to reduce strain on the grid, which will reduce energy costs and allow for increased use of renewable energy. This effect is due to the differences in time zones and weather systems across the country.Peak electricity usage (which is during the late afternoon on hot days) in the east and the west occurs at different times due to the difference in time zones. This means that the west coast can provide energy to the east coast for its peak demand, and the east coast can provide energy to the west coast during its peak demand. The cost of electricity will therefore be reduced as fewer generators will be needed to produce sufficient energy during peak times.
Connecting the east and west will also lead to increased viability of renewable energy technology. Variability in wind and sunlight availability is a limitation of renewable energy as a base power supply. By connecting the east and west coasts, local fluctuations in renewable energy production will have less impact, as other areas can compensate for the reduced production in a particular area.
Regarding costs, a 2010 report estimated that a proposed HVDC transmission link between Adelaide and Lithgow would cost $2.5 billion, and an alternating current (AC) link with several interconnections would cost $3.5 billion (DC is suited to long-distance transmission, but tapping into a DC connection along the way increases costs substantially. AC is more expensive per distance but substations are significantly cheaper). Given the distances involved, a Lithgow-Perth HVDC cable with no interconnection points could be expected to cost approximately $10 billion.
4. Energy research to secure our energy future
4.1. Policy: The Science Party has long term aims to achieve extremely cheap and plentiful energy ("Superabundant Energy") by focusing efforts on funding energy research and adopting new generation energy production methods.
4.2. Discussion: Cheap and accessible energy is fundamental to a highly functioning modern economies. It allowed humans to be freed from labour-intensive jobs that include working the land and constructing things by hand, and instead to be operators of machinery that did the jobs of hundreds of people. The future will see greater economic gains as automation and replication become more commonplace. Likewise, agricultural developments have increased the production capacity of land greatly through the production of fertilisers which required a large energy input, and irrigation, which could increase greatly if desalination becomes affordable. Greater access to cheap energy will help establish new technologies that are currently too energy intensive to pursue.
To achieve the goals of the future, the Science party believes that we need to create what we refer to as “Superabundant Energy”. Superabundant Energy is energy that is so cheap and accessible that many high energy applications become immediately viable. The policy of the Science Party is to pursue multiple paths of current generation methods for energy generation as well as research developing technology such as next generation nuclear fission and nuclear fusion options.
5. Nuclear Energy Research Reactors
5.1. Policy: The Science Party proposes the construction of a sub-scale commercial demonstration reactor according to the most promising design.
This test reactor would operate below the power of a standard commercial nuclear power plant.The creation of a research centre in Australia dedicated to the research of such a reactor would focus attention on Australia as an innovative nation.
If the test reactor proves successful, full scale energy production reactors would be constructed to provide part of Australia’s energy needs.
This would require the repeal of section 140A of the Environment Protection Act. The Science Party believes that section 140A of the Environment Protection Act was enacted with good intentions, but without knowledge of the safety of newer-generation reactors.
5.2. Discussion: To meet our goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030, we must consider all alternatives to fossil fuels. We cannot predict the energy requirements of the future, so it would be irresponsible not to also consider nuclear power.
The possibility of a nuclear accident appears as a constant objection to the construction of new plants. As such, the world is left mostly with antiquated technology in the remaining plants. The most famous nuclear incidents in which exposure or death occurred were in antiquated plants: 3 Mile Island (occurred in 1979, construction started in 1968); Chernobyl (occurred in 1986, plant commissioned by the USSR in 1977); and Fukushima Daiichi Plant (occurred in 2011, plant construction started in 1967). Modern control systems and reactor designs greatly reduce the possibility of these events. Also, Australia exists in a tectonically stable zone, which minimises the possibility of accidents due to earthquake or tsunami.
The Science Party recognises that local communities often strongly oppose the installation of nuclear facilities. Thus, we would conduct a nationwide search for technically feasible reactor sites where the impact on population is acceptable.
6. Nuclear fusion research
6.1. Policy: Australia should assist with international efforts or play host to research of self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
6.2. Discussion: The attainment of nuclear fusion would give us near limitless clean, nuclear energy. To achieve this, worldwide cooperation will be necessary, as the cost of establishing such technology is beyond most countries’ budgets, Australia included. Australia should increase its involvement in nuclear fusion research, and encourage other nations to follow suit. Research into nuclear fusion is part of the diversified, long-term strategy of the Science Party regarding energy.