Australian news, and some related international items

Energy Efficiency the FIRST FUEL – a top Submission from Brenda Hugget

Submission to the Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia Brenda Huggett  Submission 235

My submission will mainly focus on these two terms of reference:

  1. energy affordability and reliability
  2. Economic feasibility

The invitation to make a submission to this inquiry is headed by this statement:

The Australian Government supports an energy system which delivers affordable and reliable energy to consumers while fulfilling Australia’s international emissions reduction obligations.

I thoroughly endorse this aim, but would like to ensure that the Committee of Inquiry draws into this‘energy system’ a serious effort towards ENERGY EFFICIENCY – what the international Energy Agency and the G7 Ministers at their 2016 Japan meeting called the ‘first fuel’ – with its massive potential to power industry and homes cheaply, incrementally and with zero risks or cost blowouts.

At the same time the National Electricity Market is seeing a significant increase in capacity in intermittent low emissions generation technologies…

I believe this sentence should have been followed with “However the dramatic developments in a range of options to store PV and wind energy for ‘when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow’ (the folksy way to refer to the ‘intermittency’ of renewables!) just may – over the coming decade or so – show Australia that it really can rely on renewables so we can truly phase out the last of our fossil fuel energy generation altogether, dodging nuclear power entirely.

Meanwhile our nuclear science academics and their grad students can keep a watching brief on nuclear developments overseas, in case we do find around 2030 that there is a real need for the nuclear option. A real need is totally different from a ‘niche’ where some industrialist (eg a Bill Gates, a Gina Rinehart or an Andrew Forrest) could build a nuclear power facility ‘just because they can’ (ie if there is no prohibition) because they have a passion to give it a go and a spare billion for the land, the plant, the phenomenally expensive insurance that presumably our Government would surely insist upon so that the venture can ‘stand on its own two feet’ (as PM Morrison wants!) and a workforce of eager nuclear engineering graduates.

The SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission

Although Commissioner Kevin Scarce recommended lifting the prohibition (which I strongly oppose at this time) the modelling for the Commission suggested that ‘a nuclear power plant would not be viable in South Australia even under carbon pricing policies consistent with achieving the ‘well below 2 °C’ target agreed in Paris because other low-carbon generation would be taken up before nuclear. p62

However Commissioner Scarce did recommend that the SA government collaborate with the Australian Government to ‘commission expert monitoring and reporting on the commercialisation of new nuclear reactor designs that may offer economic value for nuclear power generation.’ This sounds like a very sensible thing to do at this stage!

Small Modular Reactors

I appreciate that there must be no-one left in Australia who harbours a desire to see a huge ‘traditional’ nuclear power plant built anywhere. Rather the attention of nuclear enthusiasts has been diverted to SMR’s. There are many and varied types of Small Modular Reactors on drawing boards around the planet, reactors that can be factory-made, niftily deployed (only a couple of years, not decades, of work) and because they are small (producing only 300MW or less) the number of reactors at any plant can be scaled up or down according to demand. These drawing board SMR’s utilise a range of differing technologies some of which can be classified as ‘Generation IV’ initiatives and some which are just scaled down versions of earlier technology. Inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia

These developments can and undoubtedly are all being monitored by Australian nuclear scientists, who can be presumed to also be monitoring ongoing developments in the quest for fusion pow

Tony Irwin of Sydney-based SMR Nuclear Technology complains (p. 14 of his submission)

that ‘serious consideration of the merits of N-power generation in Australia is precluded by our legislative prohibitions’. This is spurious at best! Nuclear Engineering is taught in Australian universities ANU and UNSW and probably more. Yes of course students and graduates will be champing at the bit to apply their learning on their home turf. But they can easily make themselves useful by either monitoring what is happening overseas and/or gaining experience elsewhere. With PhD scholarships, they can like their professors, even be paid by Australian taxpayers to watch and learn.

  Mr Irwin goes on to complain ‘SMR vendors not treating Australia as a potential market while  prohibitions remain.’ Of course these vendors would be fools to do so! We are not a market for any further nuclear technology (except for OPAL at Lucas Heights) while our legislative prohibitions remain in place – which will be until we as the Australian community have come to a conclusion that this new eg NuScale SMR technology has been truly proven up, has overcome all the safety concerns directed at previous nuclear technology, and that the costs are less than renewables+ batteries and moreover that it really is NEEDED!!! (not just ‘wanted/desired/wished for’)

The NuScale SMR project

Mr Irwin refers several times to the NuScale SMR project, based in Oregon. A little Googling shows that the 3 year review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commissions of this 12000 page proposal should conclude by Sept 2020. One big – and controversial – ask by the company is that the normal requirement for a 32 km wide emergency evacuation zone be waived, because the company is so confident that their SMR will be safe and they would like to promote their technology as suitable for installing on the sites of decommissioned coal-fired power plants. NuScale has indeed lined up its first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, for a plant at Idaho Falls, aiming to open it in 2027.

There is, predictably, local opposition with opponents arguing that it is more expensive than renewables with batteries, it will still produce nuclear waste (for which the US still has no real solution!) and local authorities don’t have the resources to adequately vet a nuclear plant. NuScale may live up to its (admittedly impressive) promise re safety, use of less water, etc. Australia can wait and see!

During these Watch and Learn years, there should absolutely be no lifting of our moratorium on the development of nuclear energy – a moratorium that has no doubt frustrated some, but has clearly satisfied an overwhelming majority of Australians as poll after poll has shown.

If… around 2030 Australia still has a demonstrable shortfall in energy production from renewables + storage AND cutting edge nuclear developments with concomitant waste elimination have been truly proved up then the Australian government would have a much more realistic chance of gaining much-needed ‘social licence’.

However, it may be just too late….

“Solar PV and onshore wind have won the race to be the cheapest sources of new ‘bulk generation’ in most countries. But the encroachment of clean technologies is now going well beyond that, threatening the balancing role that gas-fired plant operators, in particular, have been hoping to play.” Tifenn Brandily, Energy Economics Analyst at BloombergNEF.


The Energy Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the USA, and the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, met in Kitakyushu in May 2016, to discuss developments since the Hamburg meeting held in 2015, against the background of volatile energy prices and the COP21 Paris Agreement. They issued a joint statement for Leaders’ consideration including, under Improving Energy Efficiency:

  1. We affirm that improving energy efficiency is key to decarbonisation of our economies, enhancing energy security and fostering economic growth and should be regarded as the “first fuel.” We aim to strengthen our efforts to further improve energy efficiency and also call on other countries to follow suit.

 We emphasize the importance of the strong interconnection between, and simultaneous improvement of, energy efficiency and resource efficiency

 More to ‘Watch and Learn’ for Australia

In June this year, the International Energy Agency’s held its biggest ever Global Conference on Energy Efficiency in Dublin, attended by over 400 energy efficiency leaders from governments and corporations. The gathering aimed to identify how to unlock the vast potential of energy efficiency, bringing a wide range of important benefits, from greenhouse gas emissions reduction, to improved energy security and supporting economies to grow while delivering environmental and social benefits.

At this Conference a new Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency was launched, comprising government and industry leaders, chaired by Mr Richard Bruton, Ireland’s Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

It notes that energy efficiency policy implementation has slowed and progress is weakening. Global energy-related CO2 emissions increased last year at their highest rate sin The Commission will produce a concise list of clear, actionable recommendations next year.

“No meaningful energy transition can take place without energy efficiency,” the CEO of the IEA, Dr F. Birol said. More than any single fuel, energy efficiency has a central role to play in meeting global sustainable energy goals.

As a keen exponent and part-time worker in the field of energy efficiency education, I am dismayed but not surprised by Australia’s performance vis a vis the regard paid to this ‘first fuel.’

The AEEEC The American Council for an Energy-efficient Economy rates 20+ nations for their efforts towards energy efficiency. Australia is currently ranked at 18th, between Indonesia and the Ukraine. I BELIEVE WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS!!!!!!!

 The point about Energy Efficiency, seen as a first fuel, and given commensurate support by Federal, state and local governments is that it could replace the 11% of world energy that is currently nucleargenerated and alongside renewables+storage can probably totally displace fossil-fuelled energy generation. I say probably because just maybe in 10 or 20 years we may have to consider whatever is then proved up to be the best nuclear option, to complement efficiency/renewables/storage in some locations in our wide brown land…

October 6, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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