Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Energy Trilemma

By Hugh Bradlow

Clear direction is needed to direct the transition to cheap, reliable and carbon-neutral energy technologies.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

We have three goals for our energy supply, two of which are uncontroversial: deliver electricity at the lowest cost to consumers and businesses, and ensure that the supply is reliable and secure. The latter implies that enough electricity is available instantly when required, and the former that an event on the grid – such as a wind turbine shutting down due to a lack of wind – does not cause the grid to become unstable.

Everyone agrees on those two, but unfortunately the third consideration – to reduce (actually remove) greenhouse emissions from our electricity generators – turns the rational discussion on energy into an emotional debate.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering believes that policy-makers should set rules that allow the market to pick the winners in terms of the technologies we use to solve the energy trilemma. However, the rules must ensure that the playing field is level for all technologies.

“Clean” energy is currently more expensive than “dirty” energy from burning oil, coal or gas, all of which release CO2 into the atmosphere (unless carbon capture and storage is added to the generation system). However, this will not be the case within a decade.

This raises a predicament for policy-makers as to whether they should set a price on carbon emissions or subsidise renewables to level the playing field. But to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.