Coal Wars: Episode …

The year draws to a close in December with all the festive time, and once every couple of years the time of releasing a new Star Wars movie. This year was a ‘new Star Wars movie’ year, which inspired me to the title of the current blog entry. However, the entry is not about the movie but rather about the convulsions through which fossil fuels are going in their way out. I have written before about the inevitability of the energy transition away from fossil fuels. The speed of this transition is very much dependent on how big businesses in the energy sector position themselves in the process. And this December we saw a clear message from one of the largest energy businesses (our own BHP) that sticking staunchly to the fossil fuel energy mantra is not the way of the future. BHP has threatened to quit the local and global coal lobby groups over their essentially ‘denialist’ stance on climate change and aggressive tactics against competing non-fossil fuel energy sources.
At least locally in Australia, the year that is just passing has seen some of the nastiest campaigning against renewable energy sources, inconspicuously backed by the coal industry (I recall an issue of the ‘The Australian’ sometime in September with ‘coal is good; renewables are bad’ slogans and articles all over it). The campaign against renewables has been particularly ferocious in the light of the so called ‘energy crisis’, blaming wind and solar for reducing the reliability of the electricity supply networks and for increasing electricity prices. However, there is no clear evidence that this is so, as the reliability and prices are influenced by many factors, and not solely by the generation mix. In fact, together with a group of international colleagues I have just been awarded a small grant by the Worldwide Universities Network to investigate the effect of renewables and the mix of renewable sources (i.e. wind vs. solar mix) on the reliability of the electricity system and on electricity prices.
The process of weaning-off fossil fuel powered society is well underway. But, it will last a long time and there will be numerous turns and twists along the way. 2017 has seen some important episodes of the ‘coal wars’. Let’s hope that 2018 will bring more resolute moves into the right direction. May the cleaner energy be with us! Happy New Year!

Author: Tiho Ancev

Tiho Ancev is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the School of Economics, University of Sydney. His main research areas are agricultural, environmental, natural resource and energy economics. Tiho’s main contributions have been in water economics and policy, economics of energy, economics of air pollution and climate change policies, and economics of precision agriculture and agricultural input use. He has published widely on these topics in top international peer reviewed journals. Tiho has led and contributed to national and international research projects in these research areas. He is currently the Managing Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.