On Wednesday Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor issued a threat to Victoria to lift its ban on onshore conventional gas production or it won’t benefit from federal investment. Mr Taylor recently signed a $3 billion deal with NSW to push gas production and gain electricity network investment in return.
“The principle’s simple – no gas, no cash,” Mr Taylor said.
Dr Finkel said the intermittent supply from wind and solar must be complemented by a backup from quick-start gas-fired power, which would take “decades” to develop.
“[T]here is a limit to how much solar and wind we can use and still retain a reliable system,” he said.
“In the short-term, as the Prime Minister and Minister Angus Taylor have previously stated, natural gas will play that critical role.”
The Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2020 Integrated System Plan, released in December, said between 5 to 21 gigawatts of new dispatchable power would be needed by 2040.
Addressing this summer’s bushfires, Dr Finkel said further emissions reduction were needed to curb global warming and endorsed recent remarks from Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews, declaring “we must move on from disputing the reality of climate change”.
“The link between climate change, a rising number of forest fire danger days and our season of bushfires is clear,” Dr Finkel said.
A recent report from a parliamentary inquiry recommended Australia should partially lift its ban on nuclear power and invest in further research and development, but the Prime Minister and Mr Taylor said there were no plans to do so.
Dr Finkel said it was “hard to see” small nuclear modular reactors being ready before 2040, and even after that Australia would have to monitor commercial installations overseas before allowing the technology.
“So, is it something we should be looking at hard at the moment? I am certainly not looking at it intensely at the moment,” he said.
Dr Finkel weighed in on the controversial topic of emerging hydrogen technology, which is being developed to store energy for use in transport, manufacturing and other industries.
Advocates of “green hydrogen” argue only renewable energy should be used, while the Morrison government and Dr Finkel argue fossil fuels, along with carbon capture and storage, should be deployed.
“By producing hydrogen from natural gas or coal, using carbon capture and permanent storage, we can add back two more lanes to our energy highway, ensuring we have four primary energy sources to meet the needs of the future – solar, wind, hydrogen from natural gas, and hydrogen from coal.”
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.