Shadow Minister for the Environment Anthony Albanese spoke at the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society (acsis) this week about his vision for Australia's climate change policy.
Most interesting was that Albo's "Period of Real Solutions" talk focussed on solar energy rather than 'clean coal', wind or nuclear. He began with the obvious (well, obvious to anyone except John Howard).
What can Australia do to avoid dangerous climate change? Three things for a start:
1. Dramatically cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution;
2. Ratify the Kyoto Protocol and join the world in a global agreement to cut greenhouse emissions; and
3. Develop a world beating clean energy industry.
Wow! That would be some solar industry given the size of the profits the coal companies are making at the moment. Thankfully Albo skipped any discussion of 'clean coal' (perhaps because it can be summed up in one word: nonsense) and moved onto the solar industry...
Our Climate Change Blueprint makes it clear the only environmentally sustainable energy policy for Australia is one which makes the tough decisions to invest in two great transformations:
• transforming the coal industry into a cleaner coal industry; and
• transforming our specialist solar industry into a world beating solar industry as big as coal is today.
I want to particularly focus on the latter transformation today.
I can't wait.
Building A World Beating Solar Energy Industry
I strongly believe we can build a world beating solar industry.
In fact, if Australia is to actively engage in a period of solutions, we must establish a world beating solar industry.
The global picture is clear – the sun is shining on solar energy.
Solar photovoltaics have grown by 40% globally over the past five years.
Mark Twidell of BP Solar has stated that sales of solar cells within Asia could grow by 50% within the next decade.
BP expects global solar manufacturing revenue to double by 2008 from almost $500 million in 2005.
According to the International Herald Tribune, Asia is poised to overtake Germany as the solar industry’s main source of growth.
We could, and should, be a part of that massive growth, but the reality in Australia is very different.
Compared to a global growth rate of 40%, solar PV has only grown by 16% in Australia over the past five years.
In June 2007, the sun will set on the popular Photovoltaic Rebate Program (PVRP), which is responsible for more than a quarter of the 25 000 solar panels on rooftops across Australia.
PVRP provides Australians with a direct rebate of up to $4000 for a solar system. The truth is it has always been too popular for its own good, with long waiting lists for people wanting to participate in the scheme.
Instead of a world-beating solar energy industry, we have a beaten solar energy industry.
We could have been the Silicon Valley of solar, but when we needed national leadership we didn’t get it.
Australia once led the world in solar water heater technology but we faltered and failed to commercialise our technologies.
Now we lag behind manufacturers in both China and Europe and account for only a tiny proportion of world production and installations.
Over the last decade, our best technology and our brightest ideas have gone overseas.
Take the solar hot water systems developed at the University of Sydney.
The Chinese saw its commercial potential and grabbed it. It’s now a huge part of China’s solar market. Invented in Australia, made in China. That’s a disgrace.
You see it again with the story of Dr Zhengrong Shi, a dual Chinese-Australian citizen.
Dr Zhengrong Shi debuted at number 4 on this year’s Business Review Weekly, with a wealth estimated at $3 billion.
Zhengrong Shi completed his PhD in solar energy at the University of New South Wales, but his wealth comes from developing solar energy technology in China.
His company, Suntech, is hot property in China but solar power continues to get the cold shoulder in Canberra.
If the last ten years have been a lost opportunity for Australia, what does the next ten years hold?
I think the solar technologies that are currently being developed around the world, and particularly in Australia, have the capacity to drive a period of solutions.
Solar thermal technology being developed by CSIRO and solar sliver technology being developed at the Australian National University are both showing significant potential for addressing base load capacity.
In fact, an unpublished report by the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development, obtained by The Canberra Times, suggests solar thermal technology “is poised to play a significant role in baseload generation for Australia” and will be cost competitive with coal within seven years.
The question for John Howard is this – will you build a world beating solar industry or will you allow our solar industry to be beaten by its overseas competitors?
Already, Spain has begun construction of the first large-scale commercial solar thermal plant in Europe. The power plant is designed to generate electricity continuously to the grid when in operation.
We are already falling behind.
Labor will turn this around. We will build a world beating solar industry.
In addition to the major policy initiatives announced in our Climate Change Blueprint, we have announced a number of important practical measures that will provide a real boost to the solar industry.
We will ensure all of Australia’s 10 000 schools are solar schools.
With the right policies in place Australia should aim to deliver on our potential to have at least 1.5 million solar powered homes by 2015 and 2.25 million homes by 2020.
In addition, Kim Beazley’s Innovation Blueprint outlined a series of initiative to:
• kick start the next generation of private sector innovation;
• Reform research and development investment arrangements;
• Develop the capacity and diversity of our universities; and
• Rebuild Australia’s great research institutions, including the CSIRO. These initiatives will provide a real boost for the development and commercialisation of solar technology.