Gas only slightly greener than coal, new research shows

GAS-fired power generation will not be cheaper than coal and will only result in marginal emission reductions, new research has found.

The research by the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland has found a shift from coal-fired to gas-fired power generation will not significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy economics researcher Professor John Foster said modelling indicated that a transition to gas-fired generation reduced emissions only marginally, and that wholesale prices would be higher than with a renewable energy option.

"The findings contradict a widely-held view that renewable energy is too expensive compared to fossil fuels, and too unreliable to be a major component of Australia's future energy generation by 2035," he said.

"There is no justification for the claim that a high proportion of energy sourced from renewables will drive up wholesale costs, in comparison to a power system heavily dependent on coal seam gas," Professor Foster said.

The finding comes as the Australian government deepens its commitment to developing coal seam gas resources in order to supply lucrative export markets and transition domestic power generation.

Professor Foster said a shift away from coal to lower-emissions gas was required in order to create greater resilience in Australia's power market, but he warned that coal seam gas was not a silver bullet.

"A mix of large-scale renewable energy generation, including solar and wind, together with consumer action to use power more efficiently, will deliver the most resilient Australian power market by 2035," he said.

"While our findings might indicate that pursuing a gas-centric scenario will lead to increased prices and reduced carbon emissions, they may not be sufficient to change the dominant industry view which is intent on replacing coal with gas," Professor Foster said.

The news comes as Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett calls for a national energy policy that curtails the export of natural gas, in a bid to ensure cheap and reliable supplies for the domestic market.

Mr Barnett said he found it extraordinary that while Western Australia had long had a policy of reserving 15% of output from the giant North West Shelf liquefied natural gas project in the Pilbara, other states did not have any such requirement.

"I think that is a serious flaw in our energy policy," he told Radio National.

"Any other developed country in the world will be ensuring that that clean, relatively clean energy, is preserved - or some part of it preserved - for the national economy."

Topics:  csg environment gas lng resources university of queensland

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