Coal’s broken heart leads to new energy horizons

At some point in your life, most of us will have a seismic break-up. They’re brutal and crushing but they can also transform us. Australia is currently breaking up with its old coal-fired generators.

South Australia’s last coal plant closed last year and Victoria’s Hazelwood closed in March. Hazelwood’s owners needed to refurbish the 40-year-old plant, and decided it wasn’t worth the cost.

It’s like that moment when you find out it’s going to cost $5000 to replace the engine on your 15-year-old Toyota.

Investors don’t want to build new coal-fired generators. Wind generators are cheaper and no one wants to waste millions on a plant that could be closed in a few years.

Like any break-up, the first thing that people do is freak out. Hazelwood provided up to 1,600 Megawatts of electricity, supplying up to five per cent of Australia’s annual energy use and 25 per cent of Victoria’s average demand. How will we survive without it?

Easily. There is a bunch of idle generators that can ramp up to fill the gap. But more importantly, we have a huge energy resource in every home and business in Australia.

Energy efficiency is already Australia’s biggest “baseload” power station. Minimum standards and efficiency labels for fridges alone save around 900 Megawatts of electricity, 24 hours a day. Even better, these programs save consumers more than $1 billion a year.

We have barely started to tap the potential for energy efficiency. We could easily cut our energy use by five per cent a year or Hazelwood’s national output, and if we got serious we could save more than 25 per cent.

Break-ups teach us that we have more power inside us than we thought possible. With the right programs, every home and business can fight back, cut their bills and make our energy system more reliable.

Rob Murray-Leach is head of policy at the Energy Efficiency Council

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