31 December 2011
This was published yesterday on The Punch.
Watching a Test match is a great teacher of the virtues that make for success in life: determination, strategy and simply keeping your eye on the ball.
Anyone watching India knows that they are beating Australia hands down at all three. India is set to win while the complacent, lucky country seems sure to waste its natural advantages.
Obviously, after the events at the MCG yesterday, I am talking not of cricket, but of energy security.
Australia is blessed with full diversity of energy resources: oil, coal, gas, uranium, solar, wind, waves and river hydro.
But we lack the determination to take any tough decisions. Instead of accepting climate change and the switch away from fossil fuels, Australia is stubbornly praying that a technological quick fix will allow us to avoid changing.
The Indians have set a policy to get solar power cheaper than our beloved exported Australian coal. The policy is not some vague aspiration either. It is to get to “solar grid parity” by 2022. That is a decade from now.
This means that the Indian government and scientists are planning that home-grown solar industries will be generating electricity cheaper than electricity generated by our Australian coal in a decade.
If you are one of these conspiracy theorists who think that sounds like propaganda, suck it up; KPMG said last year that India’s solar power will start to beat coal in domestic markets by 2017.
Meanwhile, back in the Lucky Country, we are stifling solar and wind and sending newcomer coal seam gas out to bat.
Despite our renewable energy riches, we are unable to keep up preventing up with the Indians, Chinese, Americans and Germans. Our politicians have filibustered-away our world-beating lead in solar technology and driven our best solar scientists off shore to work for our competitors.
Despite all the media propaganda about India (and China) being gung-ho for coal and nukes, they are busy building solar and beating us at our own game.
Germany and the US and Australia were solar leaders but India has a game strategy to get ahead in the competition for a clean energy economy. India’s strategy is to capitalise on what is called “late mover advantage” (or “second mover”) to leap ahead.
Poor rural Indians who lack electricity are not going to go to coal, then ‘transition gas’ then renewables. No chance. The fact that most of our commentators can’t take is that solar PV is now a proven, cheap technology.
The poor of Asia will go direct to decentralized, efficient, cheap solar power, without a wasteful detour into coal or gas. That is the advantage of being a late mover in the technology of energy.
The German industry in particular has been the centre of innovation and driven down the price of solar electricity. India now gets the advantage of coming in late, when the prices and risk are low. This is why they can be confident enough of the technological “learning curve” rate to predict that the falling cost of solar will cross over the rising cost of coal by 2022.
If Australia does not wake up, the Indians and Chinese will take all the clean energy wickets. The lucky, sunny country only has a few more innings before the game will be decided. Its time to get our eye back on the ball.