AUSTRALIA will be unable to produce affordable baseload power supplies while meeting its emissions targets under present policy, new research has found.
A study by Melbourne's Grattan Institute, to be published today, warns that while carbon pricing will help make low-emissions technologies competitive, it will not be enough without big structural and policy changes.
Tony Wood, the institute's energy program director, says governments face "an acute intellectual and policy challenge" steering a course between inadequate support for low-emissions technologies or unduly favouring one technology over another. He cautions "Australia's move to a low-carbon future will be too expensive unless they do."
The Grattan research stresses markets as the primary mechanism by which Australia can reduce its emissions, but it says markets cannot work properly unless governments optimise regulatory and policy frameworks.
The study also warns against letting ideology limit the scope for manoeuvre by preventing serious evaluation of carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. "A range of technologies available today can generate electricity at or below 0.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour and have significant scale-up projection," the Grattan research finds.
"Yet none currently represents more than 2 per cent of Australia's electricity supply and
their future technical and economic potential is shrouded in uncertainty."
The report finds further refinement of the underlying technologies of low-emission energy options will be the most important tool for their future development and commercialisation.
It reminds governments of their roles overseeing the development of new transmission networks and pipelines, resource maps, market frameworks, regulations and engineering skills.
The Grattan researchers urge the commonwealth to ensure the carbon pricing scheme works properly by setting long-term emission caps and call on all governments to act to ensure there is a level playing field for all power-generating technologies.
The report's authors urge the removal of obstacles that impede technologies such as wind and geothermal from connecting at large-scale to electricity grids built around the needs of very large fossil-fuel plants.