Creating a carbon-neutral Australia using a gas cooktop is not possible.
The Climate Change Authority’s first yearly assessment of Australia’s progress in reducing emissions cautioned us that there are difficult choices and compromises that must be made as a society and as individuals in order to successfully transition to a net zero economy.
Politicians will often be responsible for making these decisions on our behalf, and there will be a variety of individuals and businesses that will be greatly impacted.
Individuals who have relied on stable and high-paying employment in coal-fired power plants and coal mines will now have to seek alternative occupations. The steel sector will be required to undergo a complete overhaul, utilizing either recycled materials or hydrogen in lieu of coal.
The agricultural industry must find a solution for reducing methane emissions from cows and sheep. As we transition to electric vehicles, motor mechanics will experience a decrease in demand for their services, leading to potential business closures.
A limited number of individuals residing in rural regions will have their agricultural landscapes significantly and permanently altered due to the implementation of power lines or wind turbines.
Additionally, the Climate Change Authority emphasized the need for governments to phase out household gas appliances.
Chris Bowen quickly responded by stating on the ABC’s 7.30 program that as the climate change minister, he is not responsible and the issue falls under the jurisdiction of state governments.
This is not true. A phase out of gas appliances requires a nationally agreed law otherwise it could represent a restraint on trade between the states which is outlawed by our constitution. The Victorian government is trying to act through its recently released gas substitution roadmap, but it will be very difficult without Bowen’s help.
However, let’s consider a different scenario where Bowen accepted the recommendation of the authority. Along with the prime minister and state premiers, he declared that within two years, residential gas appliances would no longer be sold. Once gas heaters, cooktops, and water heaters reached the end of their lifespan, households would be required to replace them with efficient electric options.
There would likely be a strong reaction from the public. He would be criticized as being radical and impulsive. News sources would publish sensational headlines stating that homes will be left in the cold during winter. This action would be considered a high-risk move for investors. It is possible that there would also be accusations that it goes against Australian values and that it would put an end to the popular activity of barbecuing (even though the majority of barbecues would not be impacted).
Is this truly a drastic choice?
There are many households in Australia that do not use gas, even in regions with extremely cold winter nights, like Tasmania and rural areas. In countries like Scandinavia, where the temperatures are very low, millions of homes use reverse-cycle air conditioners to warm their houses.
I concur that traditional electric cooktops are inferior. However, modern induction cooktops offer precise and speedy adjustments that are favored by many top chefs compared to gas.
This decision will result in financial benefits for consumers. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis conducted an economic analysis on the effects of gradually phasing out gas appliances in Victoria, where residential gas use is significant. The analysis revealed that the phase-out would save households an average of $900 after factoring in the cost of increased electricity use and financing for electric appliance replacements. While gas pipeline owners may experience losses of $3.5 billion, the overall economic gains for the community from 2023 to 2050 are estimated to be $17 billion.
One compelling motive to discontinue using residential gas is to ensure enough supply for industries that cannot easily transition to alternative fuels. The truth is, the gas reserves in Victoria’s offshore fields, which have traditionally been the primary source of gas for Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales, are depleting.
The Australian Energy Market Operator predicts that Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales will experience increasing gas shortages during the winter months until 2027. If action is not taken to replace gas with electric alternatives, it is estimated that there will be a total annual deficit of 20 petajoules of gas by 2030 under Aemo’s central step change scenario.
In simpler terms, this is equivalent to not having gas for 13 full winter days. However, in reality, this would not mean completely going without gas for entire days, but rather limiting its usage over a longer period during winter.
If our minister for energy and climate change believes that eliminating residential gas appliances is too challenging, then perhaps we should abandon our goal of achieving net zero. Compared to the other difficult choices and compromises we must make to reach net zero, this is one of the simplest.
Tristan Edis holds a position as a director at Green Energy Markets, which offers expertise in energy and carbon reduction policies and markets.