Fossils try to hang on in new age of renewables

No one seriously doubts climate change is a clear and present danger, caused by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, nor that sane policy must embrace and encourage renewable energy which emits none. All on board? Yes, yes, yes, all apart from you, Tony and Cory and your cheerleaders. (Though it is terrific to hear, Senator Bernardi, that you have recently installed the mother of all solar arrays on your home.)

Despite that being obvious to the majority, extraordinarily, in Australia, we still have people claiming the whole notion of climate change is some kind of “leftist plot”.

How on earth can we in Australia be this far behind, when most of the rest of the world gets it and is moving ahead?

Simon Holmes à Court – who pioneered the community-energy movement in Australia – made an interesting observation to me this week in trying to explain the key dynamics behind the progress elsewhere. It all turns on: 1. Physics. 2. Economics. 3. Politics. “After the laws of physics, which are immutable of course,” he notes, “economics really runs the show. Politics, when effective, can influence the economics to a degree, but mostly it runs a distant third.”

Physics dictates there is immense energy in the natural environment that enormous leaps forward in technology are releasing at ever-cheaper prices. The economics of that are moving at 21st-century speeds, dictating that costs for coal power megaprojects are going up while costs for renewable energy are plummeting. Just last week, the game shifted when Elon Musk entered the frame, turning up in South Australia to sign a contract promising to build the world's biggest battery in 100 days or supply it for free. Get it? We've been told by countless politicians that the whole South Australian energy system is a basket case. But now, along comes the world's highest-profile energy engineer and entrepreneur, who puts his money where his mouth is.

All this happens in a fortnight when Volvo announces all of its cars will feature electric or hybrid motors within two years; France boasts it will be phasing out the sales of all internal combustion engines over the next two decades; the US produced more energy from renewables than nuclear for the first time in 30 years; and India – where solar and wind energy are lifting millions out of poverty – cancels the equivalent of 14 large coal power station projects and one of its states signs a deal to build a massive solar farm that will produce power at 5.0¢/kWh – cheaper than coal.

The only carbon capture and storage power project in Europe, ROAD in the Netherlands, has just been cancelled. The largest CCS power project anywhere, the $10 billion Kemper Project in Mississippi, gave up on coal a fortnight ago. And just last week Bob Murray, a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity 'fessed up and said outright: “It is neither practical nor economic, carbon capture and sequestration. It is just cover for the politicians.”

The game is changing before our very eyes, it is changing fast, and it is changing for the better. Federal politicians will give us more blah-blah-blah, but in the real world the technological advances and the economics are driving renewable energy forward.

Smart and brave politicians like Premier Jay Weatherill have jumped out in front of it, and will reap the rewards. As will we all. Fire at will.

Peter FitzSimons is an author and journalist. 

Driving force: Hybrid and electric cars are accelerating into the future.

Driving force: Hybrid and electric cars are accelerating into the future.