4.1 Renewable Energy
4.1.1 Policy: The Future Party sees renewable energy as pivotal to producing energy from a multitude of sources to reduce pollution from energy production.
4.1.2 Discussion: Renewable energy (such as solar panels and windmills) should be used to meet short term energy needs and to reduce environmental impact of energy extraction. Dedicated biofuel crops should not be pursued as a strategy for energy production because of the poor energy conversion value of such fuels. This does not include creation of biofuels through biowaste treatment (such as waste oils and byproducts of crop harvests). A review into the current mandating of biofuels in petrol, their value in reducing greenhouse gases and energy efficiency compared to alternatives should be conducted. When determining if biofuels are ‘waste fuels’, attention should be paid to the profit margins of items like sugar to determine if sugar cane is grown for sugar with a byproduct of ethanol, or if sugarcane is grown for ethanol with a byproduct of sugar for regulatory reasons.
4.2 Modernising our Grids
4.2.1 Policy: Mandatory installation of ‘smart meters’ in all homes and business in Australia. Meters are to be paid for by electricity companies, to be recouped at a fair rate over a number of years following installation.
4.2.2 Discussion: Smart meters allow for multiple benefits for both consumers and providers of energy. Smart meters allow consumers to be much more conscious of their energy usage habits by monitoring energy usage in fine detail. They can therefore reduce consumption where it is wasteful or doesn’t add greatly to their quality of life. Smart meters allow time of day metering, where people are charged more when there is more strain on the grid, and less for when there is less strain on the grid. Smart meters make it easier for providers of renewable energy to price their products as the time of day value of the electricity that is provided can be priced more easily and hence put value to their product which is often sensitive to the time of day, such as solar and wind.
Current plans for NSW are for an opt-in system, where consumers pay for the new meters. The Future Party believes that the benefit to both the users of the electricity (who are often the person who does not own the property, and hence may not be able to install such devices) and the electricity network as a whole are too great to rely on such a slow method of adoption. The Future Party proposes that the meters are to be paid for by electricity companies, to be recouped at a fair rate over a number of years following installation.
4.3 East-west electricity network connection
4.3.1 Policy: To connect the eastern and western Australian electricity grids using an HVDC connection within 20 years. The connection is to be paid for by the Australian government, with a usage tariff for the transfer of electricity from one grid to the other to be paid by electricity retailers.
4.3.2 Discussion: The Future Party believes that connecting the eastern and western electricity grids will reduce energy costs and increase the use of renewable energy. Connecting the eastern and western grids has significant advantages due to the fact the east and west do not share timezones or weather systems.
Being in different timezones, peak usage in the east and the west occurs at different times. When the east coast is using its peak energy, the west coast is only just waking up for work. This means that the west coast can provide energy to the east coast for its peak demand, and the east coast can provide energy to the west coast during its peak demand. This means less generators are needed to produced sufficient energy during peak times, reducing overall costs of electricity.
Connecting the east and west will also lead to increased viability of renewable energy technology. Variability in wind and sunlight availability is a limitation of renewable energy as a base power supply. By connecting the east and west coast, local fluctuations in renewable energy production matter less as other areas can compensate for the reduced production in that area. Therefore, joining the east and west coast, areas which have different weather patterns, will result in higher reliability of renewable power in Australia.
4.4 Energy research to secure our energy future
4.4.1 Policy: The Future Party has long term aims to achieve extremely cheap and plentiful energy (“Superabundant Energy”) by focusing efforts on funding energy research and adopting new generation energy production methods.
4.4.2 Discussion: Cheap and accessible energy is fundamental to a highly functioning modern economies. It allowed humans to be freed from labour-intensive jobs that include working the land and constructing things by hand, and instead to be operators of machinery that did the jobs of hundreds of people. The future will see greater economic gains as automation and replication become more commonplace. Likewise, agricultural developments have increased the production capacity of land greatly through the production of fertilisers which required a large energy input, and irrigation, which could increase greatly if desalination becomes affordable. Greater access to cheap energy will help establish new technologies that are currently too energy intensive to pursue.
To achieve the goals of the future, the Future party believes that we need to create what we refer to as “Superabundant Energy”. Superabundant Energy is energy that is so cheap and accessible that many high energy applications become immediately viable. The policy of the Future Party is to pursue multiple paths of current generation methods for energy generation as well as research developing technology such as next generation nuclear fission and nuclear fusion options.
4.5 Nuclear Energy Research Reactors
4.5.1 Policy: The Future Party proposes the construction of two thorium reactors – a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) design, based off molten salt reactors first prototyped 40 years ago and a pebble-bed thorium design, which have already been successfully operated at commercial-scales and are currently being heavily developed in China. These reactors would operate below the power of a standard commercial nuclear power plant – most likely in the 100 – 200 MWe range. Following successful testing of these reactors, full scale energy production reactors would be constructed to provide part of Australia’s energy needs.
The possibility of a nuclear accident appears as a constant objection to the construction of new plants. As such, the world is left mostly with antiquated technology in the remaining plants. The most famous nuclear incidents in which exposure or death occurred were in antiquated plants: 3 Mile Island (occurred in 1979, construction started 1968); Chernobyl (occurred 1986, plant commissioned by the USSR in 1977); and Fukushima Daiichi Plant (occurred 2011, plant construction started 1967). Modern control systems and reactor designs will bring down the possibility of accident greatly. Australia also exists in a tectonically stable zone, which makes the possibility of accidents due to earthquakes or tsunami like Fukushima vanishingly small.
Thorium is far more abundant than Uranium, and Australia has amongst the world’s largest reserves. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors of various designs also hold much promise of greatly reduced waste (up to 20 times less isotope wastes as a light water nuclear power plant), enhanced proliferation resistance (through using alternate isotope decay paths), and vastly increased safety (through using passive safety mechanisms that prevent overheating, and not using water that can explode under high temperature).
This type of reactor is still experimental – the Future Party believes that Australia should play host to research into Thorium designs. Australia is well suited to the development of nuclear technology, with good reserves of fissile minerals, large unpopulated spaces, and stable tectonic activity.
Some may see the experimental nature of this reactor as a reason why we shouldn’t explore this path. If humans always held this type of view, we would never have driven a horseless car. We would never have flown. We would never have transplanted a heart. We would never have reached space, the Moon, Mars or beyond. The creation of a research centre in Australia dedicated to the research of such a reactor would focus attention on Australia as a place where innovation is occurring.
While we have the utmost confidence in the safety and utility of these research reactors and their necessity to our eventual transition to a superabundant, carbon free energy future, the Future Party recognises that local communities often strongly oppose the installation of nuclear facilities. Furthermore, community anti-nuclear sentiment undermines the potential for the technology to be further developed, and historically has played a strong role in creating a defensive attitude within the nuclear industry that has ultimately contributed to grave problems of regulatory failure and insufficient transparency in certain countries. Thus, we would conduct a nationwide search for technically feasible reactor sites where the impact on population will be negligible.
4.6 Nuclear fusion research
4.6.1 Policy: Australia should assist with international efforts or play host to research of self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
4.6.2 Discussion: The attainment of nuclear fusion would give us near limitless clean, nuclear energy. To achieve this, worldwide cooperation will be necessary, as the cost of establishing such technology is beyond most countries’ budgets, Australia included. Australia should increase its involvement in nuclear fusion research, and encourage other nations to follow suit. Research into nuclear fusion is part of the diversified, long-term strategy of the Future Party regarding energy.