Mr Geothermal becomes Mr Solar

In part two of his interview with Climate Spectator, Tim Flannery explains his amazement at solar, argues why ‘sceptics’ are losing the war and buries his geothermal past.

Part 1: Foreigners, fires and the way ahead, November 26

Climate change activist Tim Flannery has seen the future: it's here, and it's ... solar.

In part two of his interview with Climate Spectator, the founding Climate councillor said his views on the likely renewables mix had, in the last few years, evolved signficantly.

Bold hopes for geothermal to power the Australian economy “for the best part of a century”, made during his reign as Australian of the Year in 2007, have subsided. The 'hot rocks' technology could yet, he says, play a larger role in other countries like The Philippines, Indonesia and parts of Africa, but its role in Australia will be small.

“I did buy shares in geothermal companies and I’ll be rewarded in heaven for those, I think,” he says.

Meanwhile, solar production costs, he notes, have plummeted 80 per cent in four years, uptake in Australia has gone from a few thousand to more than a million and storage solutions loom, potentially, around the corner.

“We’re in the middle of a revolution that nobody really anticipated. It’s happening right now. It’s called solar and wind, particularly solar,” he says.

“I mean solar, it’s a disruptive, profoundly disruptive technology which is changing everything in this country.

"No one anticipated the drop in cost of production of solar panels ... it’s incredible, what would $10,000 dollars would buy you four years ago, you can now get for two and a half thousand."

Flannery says a storage breakthrough could quickly change the landscape again.

“Once we start combining that with some storage capacity, so that people can store the energy they make with their solar panels and get them through the evening peak, it’s going to be even more disruptive," he says. 

"The new generation of panels coming out of Germany today have exactly that; they’ve got storage capacity with them.

"These technological changes are fundamental and what they will do at the end of the day is create a sort of an amalgamation of the heat and cooling sectors and the transport sector with the electricity sector.”

Buoyed by the technological realm, although cautious on the prospects of electric cars taking off in Australia any time soon, Flannery is also optimistic on political developments, declaring the sceptics are losing the war.

"Where’s the success? Show me where it is. They haven’t had any success," he says.

“They’re losing the war. Fossil fuels are starting to go out backwards. We’re seeing dramatic emissions reductions in both the US and Australia.  We’ve already said the US has dropped 8 per cent in the last five years, Australia from the electricity sector dropped 9 per cent in one year.

"Copenhagen was the turning point. National pledges under [the Copenhagen Accord] are now starting to drive these changes, and the changed cost structure of the renewables, that is such a major driver. And that’s been largely pushed by China and Germany."

But he urged caution on hopes that China will quickly engineer a global energy market evolution.

"Look, China is trialling five emissions trading schemes at the moment which cover 250 million people. They’re trying to work out how those schemes ... which is the best model... [But] you’ve got to understand that in China, as well, it’s a controlled economy, so the price of electricity is controlled by the state. How do you run an emissions trading scheme where you have price control?

"This is a difficult problem that they’re working through. But sometime between 2015 and 2020 I think there’s anticipation that there’ll be a nationwide rollout of an ETS."

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