Over the past year, there has been a lot of talk through the media regarding renewable energy transitions. From the shutting down of coal-fired power stations, to the bans on fracking throughout various states and regions, a lot of chatter has occurred. It’s no wonder that the government wants to get involved in this dialogue – the constituency is buzzing over it. However, this is a bit of a significant issue for them. Whilst they would love to be a part of the conversation surrounding the future energy needs of the nation, they are hamstrung by idealogical nonsense and political power-broking.
It’s thankful for us consumers that a number of energy companies are cutting through this, and making plans around what the future looks like without completely buying into the political landscape. One of the more interesting questions to ask though is simply “why?”. Why would any traditional private enterprise, whose primary motivation for existing in the first place is financial, put themselves out there to do something that might not immediately return large chunks of cash for them?
The answer, it seems, is us; the customers.
As it currently stands, a lot of external influences are driving companies to make decisions that, on the surface, might seem counter-intuitive to profit growth and growing their customer base. The energy sector is one of the best examples: globally, tackling carbon emissions is of primary concern. This leads many consumers, who may not know exactly how much of the pollution occurs, to categorise what they see on face value alone. And as we think about what appears to pollute the most, great chimneys that reach the sky, bellowing thick smoke typically come to mind. Funnily enough, this is actually what most coal-powered electricity generation stations actually look like!
As consumers of the product of this, a nerve twinges. Surely – many of us think – this cannot be good for our lungs. Or the trees. Or the children… “think of the children!”
And we’d be right; coal-generated power is a scourge on the environment. It’s not only the dirty smoke from burning this fossil fuel that is an issue. The gigantic open-cut mines where we get the coal from completely destroy habitats where flora and fauna once existed in harmony. If the source of coal isn’t right next to the power plant, then huge transport requirements come into play, with them further destruction of habitat simply to move some black rocks around to burn. The Adani coal-mine in Queensland is one example, where most of that coal will end up in the furnaces of power plants in other countries. To get it to those countries, it needs to be transported through forests and the Great Barrier Reef. Destruction on a grand scale, and it’s a bloody disgrace.
Here’s the thing though: even if you don’t believe in climate change, and would rather choose to put profits before the environment and future sustainability for coming generations, you can’t ignore the cold, hard truth. Many customers do not like the look of this, on face value alone. Many customers do not want to be associated with such a destructive endeavour. And many customers have already decided to vote with their wallets on the matter.
No matter how power generators decide to generate the power, one thing is for sure – it’s going to be used. And whether the rusted-on conservative constituents like it or not, the power that ends up coming into their homes will work exactly the same if it comes from burning coal as if it comes from wind-turbines spinning, or sun shining on solar panels.
In a local example, AGL has decided to decommission one of its old coal-powered power stations (The Age) – the Liddell power plant in New South Wales. This particular action has gained a fair bit of notoriety due to the political influence being exhorted by the Liberal-National Party (The Guardian) – purely for ideological reasons, of course. The AGL chief-executive, Andy Vesey, has dug his heals in, saying the following:
“This plan is more reliable, it is a better cost alternative, and provides lower impact on the environment”
What a grand thing to say. It is all true… however his motivations haven’t changed. He still wants to make money for his company, as that is after all how he gets huge bonuses. And what might change his mind, and take a more difficult path instead of maintaining the status quo, taking a whole bunch of cash, and moving companies once his board tenure is up? We can. Talking about a clean energy future, with reduction in polluting emissions and smaller environmental impacts will be in a part of the global dialogue for some time to come. As long as there is some focus on it, CEOs of large polluters will have to talk about it as well.
After all, without us buying their products, they don’t get their bonuses. These shifts have already started to happen in other industries like the automobile industry. The rise of the electric car is driven by the lower impact on the environment. Tesla (and many others) have already sold millions of electric vehicles around the world, with production ramping up by all car-makers in the electric space. The cars aren’t even at a competitive price-point yet! However, that global conversation is still occurring, changing minds of many and directing the flow of money in ways that CEOs didn’t quite think about before.
So, they have started to listen to their customers, and deliver what is wanted, when and how we want it. Let’s keep talking about it 😊