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Short term solutions for emission control

Neil Boyd-Clark – Resources analyst

The recent energy blackouts in South Australia have refocused the public’s attention on the need for energy security, and by virtue of South Australia’s high proportion of wind energy supply, the risks associated with renewable energy. For some time we have argued that the whole climate change debate would be well served by the introduction of a carbon price, which would effectively allow energy consumers and customers to weigh the relative risks associated with different sources of energy. The reality is every energy source comes with its own set of risks, coal is a high carbon source of energy risking climate change, nuclear energy comes with nuclear meltdown and spent uranium risks, hydro energy comes with environmental destruction or reliability issues after drought. So too renewable energy sources come with their own attendant risks, wind energy is intermittent and solar relies on clear skies and sunlight. The renewable energy discussion invariably leads to the need for energy storage and much continues to be done on this front, but once again there is no silver bullet, energy density is just one factor constraining the potential for batteries to solve the energy storage issue, especially in mobile applications.
While the search for a viable commercial solution to our long term sustainable energy needs continues, it strikes us that we should be more pragmatic and do what we can to address the issues that we face today. In particular, we can become more energy efficient and produce the least polluting energy possible. The irony of the South Australian Energy crisis is that the fall-back position supporting the renewable energy supply in South Australia, is the interconnector with Victoria. Victoria, is home to the Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang power stations, some of the most emission-intensive power stations in Australia (partly as a result of the low energy lignite or brown coal which they burn).

Source: The Conversation, Fact Check: Have eight of Australia’s 12 most emission intensive power station closed in the last five years, 15 September 2016

It is not talked about much, but Australia burns significantly lower quality (lower energy) coal in its domestic power generating facilities than it exports to the rest of the world. In addition, Australia’s coal fired power generation facilities are now dated and do not use the latest ultra-super critical technology that is used by some of our coal export customers. Much of the negative commentary around Climate Change focuses on Australia’s coal miners as the culprits that need to be run out of existence. Witness the divestment of fossil fuel companies by investment and endowment funds (ANU being a notable player). This high minded approach fails to recognise what can actually be done on the ground to make a meaningful difference to Australia’s carbon production levels in the near term. Against this backdrop, it is very encouraging to see Whitehaven Coal emerging as an Australian coal producer, pointing out that by simply burning the high energy coal that Australia exports in our domestic lignite (predominantly Victorian) coal powered generators, those generators would see a significant reduction (22%) in carbon emissions. Indeed, if Australia modernised its coal fired power station fleet and used high energy export coal, even further coal fired power generation carbon reductions (49%) could be achieved. If we want to make a real difference now, while we search for the solution for tomorrow, this sounds like a good place to start.

Source: Whitehaven Coal, Full Year Results Presentation FY2016

This article has been prepared by Arnhem Investment Management Pty Limited ABN 17 129 606 775, AFSL 332484. It pays no regard to the specific investment objectives, financial position or particular needs of any specific recipient. You should seek your own professional advice in relation to any financial product referred to. You should also obtain the product disclosure statement relating to any financial product referred to and consider the statement before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product. This article, including the information contained herein, may only be copied, reproduced, republished, or posted if done so in whole with original disclaimer included. © Arnhem Investment Management, 2016